5th Lent [A] 1996

Fr. Charles Irvin

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Roman 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

There’s more to this Gospel account than the fact that Jesus raised his friend Lazarus, one whom he dearly loved, from the dead. The miracle is both stunning – and obvious. But to plumb the depths of its meaning we have to go back to the beginning of the bible, to the Book of Genesis, to God raising up human life by breathing His Spirit into a handful of earth’s mud. Lazarus coming back from being fully dead – he was in his tomb for four days, that is for three days plus one (he was REALLY dead!) – was an act of creation. God was there back at the beginning, creating life from the slime of the earth.

Why is there death at all, we might ask? Why do we have to suffer death, anyway?

The answer is again found in the Book of Genesis. Since it entered into our world, death, together with sin that is its cause, has put its imprint on everything. When we, by our sins, radically separate ourselves from the Source of Life, from the Author of Life, from God, we bring down upon ourselves the natural consequence of separating any living thing from its source of life – we bring death into our lives. Adam and Eve didn’t do that all by themselves. We cooperated and worked with them in bringing about that radical separation of ourselves, and therefore human life, from God.

For all that, death cannot defeat the God of life, the God of the living. For at the conclusion of the Book of Genesis, God promised us a Messiah who would deliver us from sin and the inevitable consequences of our sins, a Savior who would deliver us from the death we brought down upon ourselves.

There is no visible difference between human beings, whether they are believers or unbelievers. All humans are subject to the same fate; we are all travelling toward bodily death. The condition of the believer is, however, radically different, even though the difference is not evident and apparent. We are all poor. To be poor means to be without access to power. When it comes to avoiding death, we are all us together in a state of radical poverty; we are totally powerless over death. We are poor and without access to the power of life because we are sinners.

God, however, is radically powerful, having full power over death in His ability to bring life out of something that is utterly devoid of life, in His ability to bring life out of something that is quite dead. That is why, for the believing Christian, for those who receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, for those who come to God’s table, the altar of sacrifice, and receive their daily Bread of Life, life is merely changed by death, not ended. Our destiny, because we live on the Bread of Life, is to live life forever in the Communion of Saints with God.

Furthermore, we need to see that God is radically powerful over sin, having full power over sin in His ability to forgive our sins. That is why the Early Fathers of the Church saw the Sacrament of Reconciliation, saw the Sacrament of Forgiveness of Sins, in this account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, from his imprisonment in his own tomb. When we ask God to forgive our sins He raises us up to new life, just as He raised Lazarus to new life.

Jesus steps in front of Lazarus’s tomb and utters his all powerful and insistent command: Lazarus, come forth! It is reminiscent of God uttering his commanding word in His original act of creation as we find it stated in the Book of Genesis. God utters His command and life is created. God breathes His Spirit into the inert soil of the earth and human life comes forth. God breathes His Holy Spirit into the dead body of Jesus Christ, imprisoned in his tomb right next to the Cross, and Christ comes forth from His tomb utterly free… and utterly filled with His new and resurrected human life. “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life… ” To sin against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin because to sin against the Holy Spirit is to deny that He forgives us our sins. Therefore we die in them!

Our own humanity is found is Lazarus’ dead humanity, imprisoned in his tomb. Our own humanity is deadened and imprisoned by our own sins. And when we allow God to approach us in His Anointed One, in His Christ, in our Messiah, we hear, as all the earth heard His life giving word at the beginning of creation, God’s majestic and imperious command: “Unbind him, and let him go free.”

THAT is what the sacrament of forgiveness is all about; THAT is what happens when you go to confession and hear the life-giving words of your priest, the words of absolution and forgiveness of your sins, the words of God commanding you to come forth from that confessional, to come forth unbound and in freedom, to come forth in the resurrected life of Jesus Christ, victim of sin no longer, to walk in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God in a life free of sin.

If you have not gone to confession lately, you have missed – you have not experienced – what Lazarus experienced.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”