Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
There is an interesting phrase in the Scripture reading for the fifth Sunday of Lent as given in St. John’s Gospel, chapter 11:
Upon approaching Bethany after learning of His friend Lazarus’ death, Jesus meets Martha, who says to Him that her brother would not have died had Jesus come earlier, while Lazarus was still alive and suffering from a serious illness.
Jesus responds that Lazarus will rise and anyone who believes in Jesus, even if he dies, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus will never die.
“Do you believe this?” Jesus asks of Martha. She replies “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
She does not say that she believes, but rather that she has COME to believe, indicating a process, perhaps a change in perspective, perhaps a deeper understanding of the presence of God in her life through the many interactions she has had with Jesus. Her response indicates that her faith has seen movement to a depth heretofore not present in her life.
The Church gives us this magnificent Gospel toward the end of Lent to challenge our own growth during the Lenten journey that we have all just travelled. Hopefully, every Lent is an opportunity for us to echo Martha’s sentiment of growing deeper and deeper into the awesome mystery of Jesus Christ and a deeper understanding and appreciation of the great gift He offers us: the gift of death being conquered and eternal life promised for all those who believe.
What Jesus offered to Lazarus on that occasion was resuscitation, not resurrection. Lazarus at some point would have to die again, but through His death and resurrection, Jesus wins eternal life for all those who believe — “whoever believes in Me even if he dies will live.” But new life is promised not only following physical death, but also in all the ways we can enjoy a new birth, dying to a way of life that may have threatened or separated our relationship with God.
The process of coming to believe as Martha did is offered to us in all the various ways we die to that which would block us from accepting Jesus. We are born to new life in so many ways: the alcoholic or addict who dies to a former life and is born again into a new existence in recovery; the struggling family that could never own a home born to a new life through the work of Habitat for Humanity or Home Works; the mother who formerly had chosen an abortion, but sees the gift of life through new perspectives and chooses life for her unborn child; the one who, like St. Augustine, makes a decision to reject a 20-year life of sin and return to the Lord; and most commonly, those who take Lent seriously and move closer and closer year after year to that sense of intimacy with God to which we are all called.
Easter is both the occasion to commemorate the tremendous gift Jesus has given us in promising eternal life, and to celebrate the new life we have experienced through our acceptance of the challenge Lent gives us to enter into new and deeper relationships with our God. May we celebrate this Easter season well.
Christ is Risen, Alleluia! Alleluia! A blessed Easter to all.
+Robert E. Guglielmone
Bishop of Charleston
Image: The Raising of Lazarus; Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1870s