Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday of the Fourth Week in Lent

3 Kings 17:17-24 / John 11:1-45

It has been said that Jesus, in knowing with certainty that he would rise from the dead, indeed knowing that he was God, the eternal Son of the Father, could not really sympathize with our sorrow in the face of death. It is granted that he may have experienced physical pain and the associated griefs that accompany such assaults on the body, but the complaint is that, having the divine view of things, not experiencing as we do uncertainty and doubt, he cannot really know what it is for us to have lost someone we love. Like grieving Martha, we know that we shall rise again on the Last Day, but somehow that does not dull the ache in our heart hear and now. Without bitterness, we feel the need to remind the Lord Jesus Christ as Martha did: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. We are, indeed, stunned by what sounds to us as, even if true, nonetheless shocking words from his lips: Lazarus is dead: and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.

Yet, then comes that moment that the Lord arrived at the tomb, the Lord who knew of Lazarus' death even before the messengers had arrived, who knew without doubt or confusion what it was that he was going to do, that Lazarus would rise again from the dead in his presence, who is the Resurrection and the Life. And Jesus wept. Nor is that all, for these tears are unambiguous, even to those gathered about: Behold how He loved him.

We make a terrible error in seeking to know Jesus, and indeed in seeking better to know ourselves, when we imagine that knowledge of a glorious truth must, of itself, drive away all sadness. We see in this story of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus that perfect and certain knowledge of Lazarus' being raised from the dead does nothing to take away what is true, and dark, and terrible here and now, that a man Jesus loved had died. That the tomb is to be overcome, and indeed has already been overcome, in Jesus Christ, does not make the thing itself, does not make death and decay, any less an affront. Our passions, when rightly ordered, prompt us to the right response to the world, and so in the face of the death of one's beloved, only one who had no humanity at all would fail to feel sorrow.

This is why we, too, must avoid the error of a false kind of Stoic reserve in the face of sorrow and pain. The Gospel is not a counsel of being immune to the pains and sufferings of this world. It is not a critique of the attachments we make to persons here and now, attachments which we, every one of them, be broken by the power of the grace, and so eventually the source of sorrow. We are meant to feel sorrow in the face of loss, even as we are meant to feel anger in the face of cruelty and injustice, and happiness in the face of a laughing infant, a young couple in love, or a faithful widow. This passionate response is altogether human, and it is the way God has designed for us to make sense of the world.

More than that, for us the passions have been transformed, and we with them, so that in our sorrows, we can share in the tears of God himself, in our anger, we can be taken up in the consuming zeal of Jesus cleansing the Temple, and in our delight, we can embrace the happy reunion of the risen Lord with his disciples on Easter Day. However wayward our passions may be, we see in the raising of Lazarus, and in the tears of the Word Incarnate, a lifting up of these blessed prompts to see the world correctly. May the Lord Jesus Christ, who will one day wipe away every tear, let us nonetheless weep freely here and now, and in that weeping, share with him the glorious, passionate joy of the life that knows no end.

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