Father Donald Senior, CP

More powerful than death

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the raising of Lazarus from Chapter 11 of John’s Gospel. Throughout Christian history, interpreters of John’s Gospel have viewed this powerful account as a summation of Jesus’ mission.

The incident takes place at the end of Jesus’ public ministry, right before the events of his passion begin to unfold, the last in a series of powerful healings that Jesus has performed. Others, such as the healing of the royal official in Capernaum, the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda or the man born blind at Siloam, involved serious illness or disability. But, in the case of Lazarus, Jesus is confronting death itself.

The Gospel account also emphasizes that Lazarus was Jesus’ friend whom he dearly loved (along with Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha). When Jesus arrives in Bethany and sees the grief of Mary and Martha, he, too, weeps, prompting the witnesses to say, “See how he loved him.”

For John’s Gospel every moment of Jesus’ life has profound significance and so, in a special way, does this moment. When Martha hears that Jesus is arriving, she leaves her sister at home and goes to greet Jesus. Even though her brother is dead, Martha believes that Jesus can still save him: “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

Jesus responds with one of the most powerful declarations in the Gospel: “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.” Jesus then asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Drawing from one of the New Testament’s most profound declarations of Jesus’ identity she replies, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

Then the climax of the story comes: Jesus goes to the tomb of his friend and commands, “take away the stone.” When the entrance to the cave-like tomb is opened, Jesus calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Remarkably Lazarus, still bound with his burial cloths, steps from the tomb fully alive. Jesus’ final words echo across the centuries: “Untie him and let him go free.”

There it is — the whole intent of Jesus’ mission condensed into one miraculous moment. Lazarus, the friend whom Jesus loves, is wounded by death. But Jesus’ love for him is more powerful than death.

At Jesus’ word, Lazarus is delivered from death and set free. This is, in fact, how John’s Gospel views the meaning of Jesus’ own death and resurrection. At the Last Supper, which takes place shortly after this incident, Jesus’ tells his disciples the true meaning of the death he is about to endure: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).

At the very beginning of the Gospel, Jesus declared that his entire mission from the Father was to reveal God’s love for the world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

What John’s Gospel proclaims through the account of the raising of Lazarus is a fundamental assertion of our Scriptures and of our Christian faith. In the first reading today from the prophet Ezekiel we hear the ancient longing of Israel to overcome death. Their hopes lie scattered on the desert floor like so many dry bones. But God breathes the Spirit of life into their graves and they shall rise from them.

If the Scriptures affirm anything it is that God’s love is more powerful than death. That is the ultimate meaning of Lent as we affirm again our faith in Jesus who for us overcame death and brought unending life.


  • scripture