Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we celebrate the final Scrutiny, the rites of continuing conversion for those catechumens and candidates who will be joining us in the profession of the Catholic faith at the Easter Vigil. This third and final moment is accompanied by the Gospel story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It is the final miracle our Lord performs in his public ministry (the institution of the Eucharist and healing the high priest slave’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane are miracles that occur in a less-public setting during the days of His Passion). In this miracle, our Lord demonstrates his power over life and death, preparing us for the full realization of this power in the Resurrection.
As we read this Gospel, we should also attend to some other important elements that are present. Not only will we see our Lord’s power over life itself, we will also see how deeply and closely He identifies with us, how He enters into our humanity in its fullness. First, we see what appears to be a delay on Jesus’ part: He has heard that Lazarus is sick, but delays going to him. With this choice, we ought to recognize the reality that God sometimes asks us to wait for the answer to our prayers. When Jesus eventually goes to Bethel to be with Martha and Mary in their grief, His delay begins to make sense. Martha, famously too busy to be with Jesus when He visited, now runs to meet Him on the road. There, she pleads for the life of her brother. In Martha, we see our own experience of grief. She complains that if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died, just as we might cry out with a complaint or even anger to God in a moment of tragedy. But in almost the same breath, she shows us how to pray. “But even now, I know that whatever you ask, God will give you.” Jesus reveals His identity once more: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” And He asks for her faith, which Martha readily gives. When Jesus is brought to the tomb, we read the shortest verse in the entire Bible: “Jesus wept.” With His tears, our Lord shares even in the experience of human grief. There is no emotion, no human feeling, no aspect of that spectrum of our humanity, save sin, that He does not experience in His life. Thus Jesus sanctifies human grief. Finally, as the people question why He had not saved Lazarus, Jesus orders the stone rolled away from the tomb and commands Lazarus to come out. Even our doubt cannot stand in the way of the grace and power of God. Though He calls us to faith, even when our faith wavers, Jesus can still act.
As Lazarus comes forth from the tomb, he is still wrapped in the burial cloths. Jesus says “Untie him, and let him go.” He speaks both to death itself – “Death, you have no power over Lazarus!” – and to the people – “Let not the instruments and signs of death hold you bound ever again!” With this Gospel proclamation, our catechumens and candidates are also called to freedom and new life. It is the freedom and life that comes from following Jesus. Like Martha, they are called to arise, run to Jesus, and profess their faith. We who are already initiated are also called to this faith. We who have perhaps become accustomed to a particular way of living, who maybe have become used to a status quo in our faith journey, are called to arise, too, and run to Jesus. As Holy Week approaches, let our focus be on Jesus, the one who invites us to faith, and calls us to life. Let us run with Martha. Let us listen as Jesus reminds us that He is the Resurrection and the Life. Let us profess faith with Martha and Mary, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” And let us hear those comforting words from Jesus that set us free from sin and death: “Untie him, and let him go.”