Homily for Fifth Sunday of Lent 2005

Our friendships are one of the most important dimensions of our lives. Friendships can cross all kinds of barriers whether they be race, colour or religion, sex or social standing. It forms the basis of any healthy marriage.

We should not be surprised, then, to find that Jesus had close friends. More than anything else his friendship with the family of Lazarus shows how human he really is. He had real deep feelings for Lazarus, Mary and Martha. John's Gospel reveals to us a bit of this very personal side of Jesus. We do not know how this friendship came to be, but certainly they were disciples. Or how often he visited them. But he wept for his friend. We can't say he was pretending to grieve because he knew he could raise Lazarus. His was a genuine sorrow. And as with the blind man, Jesus indicates that Lazarus sickness and death was for the glory of God. His personal feelings were subject to that.

We often meet people asking for handouts. So often it seems they have a genuine need but know of no other way to solve their immediate problem than to ask for money. Much of their energy is spent on this task of survival. They seem trapped in a cycle of destitute living. In such a situation friendships can be shallow as everyone becomes a potential helper. Close relationships are scarce.

Maybe they are just the more obvious expression of the poverty in all of us which enslaves us. We all need Jesus to say to us, “Lazarus, come out!” The very name “Lazarus” means, “God has helped.” God certainly helped Lazarus in the Gospel today. The implication is that Lazarus and ourselves are in need. There are those who seem alive but are really in a tomb. They are bound in the wrappings of the grave. For all kinds of reasons they do not have that fulness of life Jesus came to offer.

Jesus was going back to Judea to see Lazarus against the advice of the disciples. Judea was the place of opposition and death for Jesus. He had to go their to fulfil his mission. It is as though Lazarusm, while a close friend of Jesus, also represented all that was dead and decaying in Judea and in its religion as expressed by the Temple.

Someone has said that Christianity is not about opposing evil, but about living a life in contrast to the decay and despair we often see around us. If we see our mission as simply opposing evil then we can end up justifying all kinds of violence in the name of God. That has been part of the sad history of most religions including our own. No! Like Jesus we need to journey into that place of death and decay with compassion and love. We need to hear Jesus command us, “Unbind him, and let him go.” That is the ministry of reconciliation of the Church. It is not the task of the Church to take up a war on terror or evil. But to bring freedom to those who are bound up.

We have to ignore those who say don't go near to evil because of the smell! We must offer Jesus and the power of the good news to heal. So we remember how we have been like Lazarus in the tomb, rejected, discouraged, despairing, feeling that life is not worth living, or perhaps consumed by guilt. At such times we want to hide away from everyone. We would prefer to stay in the tomb.

Today, the Word of God calls us forth to live in the light. By the witness of our lives we bring that same call to those who need to meet the compassionate Christ. It may be those who have laid a loved one in the grave. It may be someone killing themselves through addiction. It may be just someone tired of life and its burdens. The promise of the Lord in Ezechiel will be fulfilled: I am going to open your graves, my people. I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live. That is also the promse of Easter when we remember our baptism.

Fr Graham