The Gospel of John, Chapter 11, verses 1-45 tells the story of the raising of Lazarus. Ten years ago, after my conversion, this Gospel was the most important to me. Of all the biblical characters, Lazarus was the one that I most related to for a number of years. Part of the reason is because I ended up “playing” him on four different occasions.
On two different Fifth Sundays of Lent , at St. Joseph’s Parish in Miami Beach, FL, they dressed me up like him, one year wrapped in toilet paper, the other year shrouded by a huge white sheet. I would “come out” in front of the catechumens at the moment when the teacher read the climactic part of the Gospel to the group. From the stricken looks on their faces I must have looked more disturbing than funny in that get-up. Death is serious business. I was so touched that I could not stop crying.
Two years later at the Holy Week Retreat in Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Jamaica,NY, a group of us helped out by playing different characters from the Gospels before the large group of retreatants. We were “remembering” Jesus on Holy Saturday, after He had been buried. I played risen Lazarus and improvised on my imagined memories of his childhood , playing among the olives above Bethany, with Mary and Martha, his little sisters, and of course Jesus, who was already special. I “recalled” His visits, His preaching, our belief in Him. I described how: “I got so sick and eventually lost all consciousness. Suddenly in the darkness, I heard His powerful voice saying, ‘Lazarus, come out!.’ Somehow I found myself blinking in the dazzling light before Him. It turned out the Lord had brought me back to life! But then, a few days later, here He was dead and buried like I had been. I was so grief stricken, dazed and confused, but there was this strange hope in my heart.’
The fourth time I felt possessed by Lazarus was when I was crawling out of this dark, ancient tomb, way under ground, in Al-Azariah, Palestine, on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. Al-Azariah means in Arabic: “the town of Lazarus”. Not far up the street from the Church of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, the Arab owner of Avery old private house, charges to let pilgrims wind down a steep staircase to the “grave”. It is a dreary place, specially after one crawls, one at a time, into the claustrophobic “cave”. As I was crawling back out, Fr. Vasko, our guide, took a picture of me.
I did not look very happy. Why? I had just been meditating on my sinful God-less life, the darkness where my soul languished on life-support. My Lord had the stone that covered my grave be taken away. He brought me back to life. He removed so many things that had bound me. He freed me in so many ways. I thank and love Him so much for that. So why that unhappy look? Perhaps because there were so many souls still stuck behind me in that hole. In a way our whole world seems to our earthly eyes to be still inside that hole. The mystery of suffering was weighing upon my mind on that day. Like Mary and Martha, I felt like complaining to the One Who saves me: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Why all this suffering dear Lord?
It has taken me a few years to come to terms with this mystery. Surrender to the will of God in prayer helps a lot. We get some inner peace. And yet I must admit, I am still trying to cope with the mystery of suffering every day, when my Lord faces me like He did Martha and challenges me: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Humankind has come down with a serious illness, like Lazarus. All of us friends of Jesus, cry out to Him: “Master, the one you love is ill.” Please bring a miracle. Deliver us from this disease. So many of us are suffering and dying. You, my Lord, can stop this pandemic.
He told us to “Ask and you shall receive.” No matter how desperate, I feel it’s my duty to ask God for the welfare of everyone on this Earth. I am doing this with all hope and faith. Yet I realize, that in another way I must be part of the answer to that prayer for someone else, just letting them know in their enclosed isolation and fear the I am there for them, even if just to listen, to pray together, because most importantly, our God is there with us. I truly believe that in God’s own time our Lord will again cry, “Come out!” And we will be able to emerge from the confining insides of our houses, from the hospitals, and we will praise our loving God. Sadly for us, some will open their eyes to be before Him, like Lazarus, but now in the delight of Eternal Life. We will mourn them, but pray for God’s grace so that we will be able to cry out to Him with tears similar to the ones He shed at Bethany:
“Yes Lord we believe. We believe that You are the Resurrection and the Life!”