As I was reflecting on the Gospel for today, I thought of two images of Christ. The first is one that some of you might be familiar with, at the National Shrine in Washington DC. It is a beautiful mosaic above the main altar, and is entitled “Christ in Majesty.” Until someone told me that Jesus wasn’t German, this is what I thought he looked like. It’s an image of the glorified Christ, the immortal judge and lawgiver, with flames of righteousness bursting from his blonde hair. It is truly quite the sight, and really reflects the awesome power of God. You might also be familiar with the other image I was thinking of. It is a pencil-drawn image of the laughing Jesus. It’s not my favorite, but you’ll find it at some of the religious goods stores around the area. It shows Christ as a down-to-earth, friendly, man. He’s just a nice guy, a pal. These are two very different images, and both try to tell us something about who Jesus is, just as the Gospel does today.
You see we hear about two seemingly different sides of Jesus today. We hear that Christ loved his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He apparently had spent some significant time with them, and they were a place of intimacy, rest, and relaxation for him as he was doing his public ministry. This is something that everyone needs, even Christ himself. But then Jesus hears that his friend is dying. And he comes to the grave, and it all seems to hit him at once. He sees Mary coming to him weeping. He sees the mourners wailing the death. He no doubt noticed the strange absence of his friend Lazarus. And so he becomes perturbed and troubled, asking “Where have you laid him?” And when they show him the tomb, we receive the shortest line in this wonderful Gospel – “And Jesus wept.” Jesus wept. He was overcome with emotion for love of his friend, and he couldn’t help but weep. This certainly shows forth the verity of his human nature. He really is a man, and he really does love.
But immediately afterwards, Christ shows us another aspect of himself. He gives us the greatest miracle in his public ministry – he raises his friend Lazarus from the dead. He orders that the tomb be opened, and the people reluctantly do so, although they know that there will be a stench, because this man is definitely dead. But Jesus already knows this, and he is determined to show the power that he has over death. And then, in an unforgettable way, Jesus called into the tomb and orders the dead man forth. You see, in this miracle, we see that Christ isn’t just some guy, some ordinary Jewish man at the funeral. No, he is truly God, and this caused people to believe in him. People who had thought that death was the final answer, and that the story of Lazarus was over, are proven wrong. And they come to believe in him.
Now, a lot of Bible scholars out there will tell you that these two aspects of Christ reflect his humanity and his divinity respectively. And I think sometimes we can try to separate out Jesus the man from Jesus the God, based on his actions in the Gospel, but it’s important to remember that Jesus is one – he’s fully a man, and yet, without loss of his humanity at all, he is fully God. This is what the Church calls the hypostatic union – that unbreakable unity in Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Now, if you struggle to understand this, you’re not alone! This is something the Church has been trying to understand since the very beginning, over which she clashed with all sorts of heretics. Can you believe people used to actually form mobs and riots about the humanity and divinity of Jesus! If only we had that sort of zeal today! But ultimately through a lot of Councils, and a lot of inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and a lot of blood, sweat, and prayers, we have come to this understanding. But why should this mean anything to us? Why should we care about this at all? Why not just leave this to the theologians? Well, we see why right here in the Gospels – Christ cares for us, just as he did his friends. He shares our joy and our sorrow. He weeps with us. But it’s important not to leave it at that.
I think this is a powerful passage because it’s one that people can connect to. It shows us that Christ weeps for the deceased, just as those of us who mourn do. But this passage isn’t just about earthly death, but that death that we all experience daily because of our sins. Each time we sin, we embrace death again. Sadly, there are people out there who have no idea that they are spiritually dying inside, or worse yet, that they are already dead. And in a way, that sin effects Christ. He weeps for our sins. We weeps for us when we experience the sting of spiritual death, and we weeps with us as we’re suffering its effects. But it isn’t enough for us simply to be grateful that Christ is a shoulder to cry on or something. It isn’t enough to see him as a nice guy who we can talk to when we’re having a rough day or when we’re struggling with some sin. Christ can actually do something about it! In the midst of all that spiritual death, we have to remember that just as he told Martha and Mary, Christ himself is the resurrection and the life. He is the source of life, and he is our very reason for living. He wants to call us forth from that tomb of our sinfulness, and to untie us from the burial clothes that have become chains – chains of sin. But as with the Gospel, this takes faith. We have to seek him out.
The season of Lent is indeed about death. But it’s not the death of sin, but rather a death to ourselves. It is about dying to those things that keep us from God, and embracing the life that Christ offers to us. Christ offers us special opportunities during Lent to embrace this life through the sacraments – Reconciliation and the Eucharist, especially. So if you haven’t gone to confession yet, or even if you have, try to go soon, before Lent is over. And as we continue on our Lenten pilgrimage, trying to be mindful of Christ as our Resurrection and Life, maybe we can ask ourselves a few questions. In what ways have I been dying the death of sin, things that Christ is calling me away from? And then, in what ways is Christ calling me to die to myself and embrace the life that he offers? May we listen to his call, and when he calls us forth from the tombs of our sin, may we run to him and embrace him as our friend and Lord.