From this Sunday onwards, the Crucifix and all images or statues are covered from until Good Friday where the Cross will be unveiled and just before Easter Vigil, the veils will be removed from images and statues. As we knock on heaven's door and the Gospel gives us the "sign before the Sign". Apart from the obvious catechumenal moment, what significance can we attach to the raising of Lazarus?
No other Gospel carries this event but John. In terms of veracity, occurence might be considered a criterion because of multiple attestations for the same event can be found in different literary genres. In the case of John's Gospel, the credibility of this event is not based on multiple attestations but rather the description of an inconvenient fact. A normal response to an emergency is that one would drop everything and proceed to address the situation. In this case, instead of rushing to assist a dying friend, Jesus deliberately delayed His departure for Bethany. For John, this delay which allowed for the raising of Lazarus was taken to be an anticpation of Christ's own Resurrection. Thus, a sign before the Sign.
Often enough when I attend a wake where a simple service is conducted, one of the readings used is this same Gospel we heard moments ago. How does one reconciles the sad reality of a lifeless body in the coffin, that will never come back to life, with the ecstatic joy of seeing a bound mummy walking out of a sepulchre? A way to bridge this chasm is to emphasise a fact omitted by the Gospel.
Lazarus died, again.
If not soon enough, perhaps at a ripe old age.
The raising of Lazarus is NOT the Resurrection. One can possibly characterise it as a reanimation of a lifeless corpse. He came back to life but not to everlasting life. We instinctively desire an everlasting life, not the reanimation granted to Lazarus. And this enthusiasm for everlasting life is best illustrated by the possibility afforded to those who can afford cyrogenics. Recently, a 14-year old UK girl suffering and dying from a rare form of cancer won the right to have her body cryogenically frozen after death in anticipation of a potential future cure.
She is perhaps an extreme case of what appears to be our present obsession--eternal youthfulness--an expression of the innate desire for immortality. We all want eternal life but we want it in our own terms, right here and right now. But, the truth is temporality and eternity are mutually exclusive. Built into temporality is the unescapable sell-by-date expiry. Even in a perfect universe untainted by sin, temporality has a corroding effect on existence. With time, things come to pass.
The prospect of bringing a lifeless corpse like Lazarus or reanimating the cancer-stricken girl from a cryogenic stasis is exhilarating surely. However, the best state to describe Lazarus is this: almost paradise which means it is not paradise.
The prayer inserted into a funeral Mass gives us an indication of how paradise is to be conceived.
Remember your servant whom you have called from this world to yourself. Grant that he (she) who was united with your Son in a death like his, may also be one with him in his Resurrection, when from the earth he will raise up in the flesh those who have died, and transform our lowly body after the pattern of his own glorious body.
We should never confuse almost paradise to be paradise. Our vision must be cast beyond the temporal to the eternal where we shall see God for who He is. Lazarus may not be paradise but nevertheless he is an invitation to life by no less than our Lord and Saviour. "Untie him and let him go free" is a summons to live not for the moment but for the right moment. There is a catchy tune by One Republic. I LIVED. If you watch the video associated with this tune, it makes sense. It is dedicated to a cystic fibrosis boy living a breath away from death. Out of this video context, the chorus (bold and italics) pulsates with Carpe diem urging one to seize the day and live.
For those who are interested, the lyric goes like this
Hope when you take that jump
You don't feel the fall
Hope when the water rises
You built a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out
It's screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs
You choose to stay
Hope that you fall in love
And it hurts so bad
The only way you can know
You give it all you have
And I hope that you don't suffer
But take the pain...
Hope when the moment comes
I...I did it all
I...I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived
"I did it all" screams a kind of present, a carpe diem that seizes the now. It makes sense because we dread a less than perfect existence, an implication that we have lost out. But, if you think about it, carpe diem for all its gallantry in the face of peril is closer to the disquiet of death than it is to the bravery for life. Underlying that philosophy is firstly, the uncertainty that there is nothing beyond this life and if you have not done it all, you are nobody. Secondly, it may be more than a desire to live because to "own every second this world could give" hints at a rebellious rail against what is perceived to be a tight-fisted God who is penurious in the gifting of life, so much so that one needs to grab it because He is mean.
However, if Lazarus exiting the cave is anything to teach us, Jesus' command to untie him and to let him go free is a summons to live not just the moment but to seize every right moment: in preparation for the Resurrection, for life everlasting.