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From the tomb

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March 29, Jn 11:1-45

The fifth Sunday of Lent places before us the scene of Jesus’ greatest public miracle: the raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead. This miracle takes place shortly before Christ goes to his own death and tomb, and represents a decisive moment on the road to the cross.  Before this point, Christ has already shown himself to be the master of the elements, a powerful healer, and a forceful exorcist, but this final great miracle stands apart from all the others. In this moment, Christ has not simply fed a crowd, has not simply healed, has not raised a recently dead person as though they were merely resting, but has broken the power of decay and of the tomb itself.  

We, perhaps, remember this scene as a moment of peaceful victory and joy: Jesus commanding, the onlookers obediently removing the stone and unbinding Lazarus, Christ returning the man to his sisters, Martha and Mary. But we should not miss the power of this moment. Surely, there was joy in the crowd, but perhaps also terror. The dead do not rise this way, tombs do not give up what has been buried, and those whom the earth has already begun to claim do not return whole. Could that crowd have watched the man in bandages stumble from his last resting place without raising a cry of primal horror? The power Jesus displays in this moment is terrifying, and awesome in the true sense of the word. From this moment on, it is clear that he is Lord even over life and death, and nothing can escape or defy him. It is clear why a crowd will soon follow him into Jerusalem, waving palm branches and acclaiming him as the new king.

The question for us today is whether we believe that the Lord has such power, and whether we believe that he desires to act in our lives. We must ask ourselves: Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the master of all things, with power to accomplish all things? Do I believe that Jesus Christ can and will act with such power to destroy sin and evil in my life if I allow him?  

It can happen that when we decide to pursue holiness and confront our shortcomings as Christians, when we try to build virtues we have never had, or root up habits of sin we have struggled against for years, we may lose heart, and feel as though the holiness we seek is out of reach. We can feel as trapped in our sinfulness or our mediocrity as in a tomb, with an impassible wall of rock between us and sanctity.  In such a moment, do we believe that Christ can bring us back to life, and make real holiness possible for our soul?  

It can also happen that we become comfortable with the tomb of our sins and little infidelities. We can become frightened, perhaps, of the unfamiliar freedom and new life that would come with Christ’s intervention. In such a moment, do we want Christ to act? Do we trust that the joy of the holiness he offers exceeds the joy we find in our sins as much as the joy of life exceeds that of death?

The truth is that Jesus Christ offers the true life, called holiness, to each soul.  He has the power to give it, even to souls long dead in sin and indifference, even to souls that have given up on becoming saintly.  The question we must answer is whether we believe, and whether we will allow him to save us from our own tombs.

Fr. Rampino is chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020