Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This weekend the Church celebrates the third and final Scrutiny for those who are preparing to come into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. In each of these special rites, the Church has prayed for the catechumens and candidates to have hearts open to the forgiving mercy of God, eyes open to see the works of God, and hearts open to receive the life-giving grace that Jesus wins for those who follow Him. The Scrutinies are meant for us as well. In this season of penance, our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving reminds us of our need for repentance and our need to rely on God’s providence in our lives. The disciplines of Lent help lead us to a renewal of our spiritual lives. The Scrutinies prepare the catechumens and candidates to experience something new in their spiritual lives, while for those already professing the Catholic faith, the rites remind us of what we have already experienced and received.
The story of the raising of Lazarus accompanies the third Scrutiny. In this story from John’s Gospel, the humanity of Jesus is displayed powerfully through His friendship with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, through His compassion for friends in grief, and through His sharing in their pain and tears. The divinity of Jesus is displayed both in His knowledge of events, and in His divine power to restore life. Just as the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well restored hope in the heart of a woman lost in sin, the words Jesus speaks to his friend Martha restores hope in the heart of a woman lost in grief. Just as the encounter with the man born blind opened closed eyes to the light of the world, the act of raising Lazarus from the dead opens the eyes of many hearts to believer in Jesus who is the Light. Just as He revealed Himself to be Messiah and Lord when he met the woman at the well and when he opened the eyes of the man born blind, today we hear Jesus identify Himself as the resurrection and the life. The miracle of Lazarus coming out of the tomb testifies to the truth of these titles and prefigures the victory Jesus will have over sin and death.
This Gospel fittingly comes as we enter the final days of the season of Lent and prepare for Holy Week. Throughout His public ministry, Jesus preached and worked miracles, each mighty deed underscoring the truth of the words spoken by our Lord. Again and again, Jesus predicts that He will suffer and die, and on the third day be raised. While the disciples can sense the growing animosity toward Him and so understand the possibility of His death, they have seen no mighty deed as yet that would convince them of the resurrection. The raising of Lazarus changes that. The tomb of Lazarus looks very much like the one in which Jesus will be laid: a cave, with a stone closing off the entrance. Jesus commands the stone be rolled away so Lazarus can come out. On Easter Sunday, the disciples will come to find the stone rolled away from the tomb where Jesus lay. Lazarus comes out of the tomb wrapped in burial cloths, still bound, as it were, by death and sin, until Jesus commands he be untied and set free. On Easter Sunday, the disciples will find the burial cloths that bound Jesus no longer on His body, but laying there, in a tomb completely empty. Many who see the raising of Lazarus come to believe in Jesus. On Easter Sunday, the disciples who see the empty tomb come to believe, not only in Jesus as prophet and miracle worker (they already knew Him and believed), but also in the truth of the Resurrection, comprehending for the first time the full meaning of Messiah.
With this Gospel, we are following both a chronological sequence and a symbolic sequence. The new believers will find themselves almost immediately in the crowd gathered in Jerusalem welcoming Jesus into the city on Palm Sunday. Many of them will also be in the crowd gathered to demand His crucifixion a few days later before Pontius Pilate. The human suffering which Jesus shares with Martha and Mary will be seen once more in His agony in the garden, again when He is scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, made to carry the Cross, and ultimately when He is publicly executed. The events preceding Holy Week also foreshadow them. The characters of the stories give us insight into our own spiritual journeys. In the crowds we see reflected our own search for faith, our solidarity with those who grieve, and our desire to believe. In the reassuring words Jesus speaks to Martha, we hear the words He speaks into our own moments of darkness. In Martha’s agonized plea, we hear an echo of our own doubt, fear, and suffering. As Jesus weeps, we are reminded that the Lord desires to be close to those in sorrow, to identify with our real needs, and to walk with us as we carry the cross. As we approach Holy Week then, let us remember that our Savior wants to walk with us in the midst of our sufferings, invites us to carry the Cross with Him, and assures us as we go that He is the Resurrection and the Life, the true Light of the World, the One who has the power to save.