The raising of Lazarus, this Sunday’s Gospel, is the final miracle in the Gospel of John. After this, Christ journeys to Jerusalem. This is the final Sunday of Lent, and next Sunday we start Holy Week with Passion or Palm Sunday.
It is often said that this episode contains all the elements of the coming passion of Christ. On the human level, it shows the pain and anguish of death, of losing a loved one.
It is in the midst of this human pain and sorrow that Christ draws out the message of hope. He asks Martha, in the midst of her pain and sorrow over losing her beloved brother, Lazarus: “Your brother will rise again… I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha affirms her faith: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Test of faith
This is the test of faith—to believe when there is no logical, rational ground to stand on. It is not illogical or irrational. It is nonrational. As the great Jesuit theologian Hans Kung put it, science and logic cannot prove the existence of God and neither can they prove he does not exist.
Sometimes lost in the drama of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is “the other miracle”—the miracle of faith, Martha’s faith.
In a moment of deep human despair over the death of a loved one, Martha understands what is most basic and essential—the core of our faith, the central mystery and grace of our Christian faith, the Resurrection.
The French philosopher, playwright, music critic and leading Catholic-Christian existentialist Gabriel Marcel remarked in his phenomenology of hope that, as Christ was dying on the cross, he had no certainty that his Father would actually raise him up. The Resurrection had never happened before his own Resurrection. This is pure faith and hope in his Father’s promise.
In the midst of extreme physical pain, radical psychological and emotional solitude, and intense near-despair, Christ surrenders in faith and trust: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me… Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
The past months I have been seeing a young man in his late 30s, who asked if he could see me for spiritual direction. I accepted, but I also “corrected.” I told him that I was a spiritual companion. I did not dare to think I could “direct.”
He has been in search of God’s mission for him the past years, maybe almost a decade. He is doing well in his career, but the past years it seemed it was not quite what he is searching for. He was ready to call it quits and venture into another career, one that would give him more meaning.
But just when he was about to let go and move on, he had a major achievement in his field. It was groundbreaking and he became the toast of his industry. All of a sudden his luster was back. He was at the top of his game again.
In our spiritual conversation last month, I got an insight into his mission. I gleaned from his stories, and also what I heard from others, that his greatest impact on people is how good he is as a person.
I told him that night, “Maybe this is your mission, to let people believe in goodness again, for them to experience that God is good.”
This is the young man’s own resurrection, his second wind, a new lease on life. But it is really synthesizing his life at this point in meaning and mission—to be a witness of God’s goodness, the goodness of life.
Did it come because of the cross he went through? Was this the fruit of his struggles through the years? Is this the dawn that comes after the dark night of the soul? I suppose it is “yes” to all these. But it is also because of faith, of trusting that God is good.
Story of Holy Week
This is the story of Holy Week. This is the story of the Cross and the Resurrection. It is our story that we try to remember and renew every Lenten season and every Holy Week.
On the Cross and in the Resurrection, everything falls into place. Everything has meaning. The reward of trust and faith in God is meaning that is imbued with joy and peace.
Just last Tuesday I bumped into the young man again. I was excited to show him one of the famous lines from Dag Hammarskjold’s “Markings.”
I am sure that, for many of us, somehow, somewhere we have come across these lines. Maybe we have read it. Maybe we have heard it. But we have experienced it:
“I don’t know Who—or what—put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone—or Something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
The young man smiled and, almost in a whispering tone, said, “Wow!” His eyes revealed the joy and peace at the moment—the hour when he “was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
Life is good. Life is beautiful. Life is meaningful. Because Christ said “Yes” to his Father, to his Cross and Resurrection.
Holy Week is the special moment, the special hour “to remember, to celebrate and to believe” that the Cross and Resurrection give meaning to our lives.