March 26, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from John 11:38-44.
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
I have been entombed like Lazarus, dead to the world, blocked by a stone across the entry into new life. One weekend years ago I attended a parish mission. At the time I was mired in depression. I kept going through this endless cycle of anger, blame, self-pity and hopelessness. I felt unloved, unwanted and unworthy. I recounted all the ways and times I had been hurt, all my many failures. I had thought about suicide. I felt dead and wished I were dead. I had been in the dark so long, I couldn’t see anything clearly. I kept going to Mass and going through all the motions of what was expected of me. I’d pleaded with God to rescue me from this quagmire. I remember going to the retreat thinking that it was going to be waste of time like everything else I had tried – therapy, reading self-help and spiritual books, praying – anything to lift myself up, to save myself.
During a time for private reflection in a room by myself – my metaphorical tomb, I was really struggling with letting go of the hurt and anger. I tried to follow the priest’s instruction to listen to God, to let Him enter into me. I began with the same, tired litany of my troubles and pleas for help. There was something different this time, though. Maybe it was weariness; maybe it was something said during the mission that had inspired in me. I told God that I couldn’t fix this; I couldn’t heal myself; I couldn’t raise myself; I was helpless without Him. I just dumped it all in His lap; I gave up my determination to take care of myself, my stubborn pride in being independent. I needed Him and in the depths of me I had a conviction that He loved me. How and why I didn’t know. I sat there for a long time in silence, empty of any more words.
Suddenly, this image appeared in my mind’s eye. I was in a tomb hollowed from the stone, swathed head to toe in burial wrappings just like Lazarus. I heard Jesus’ voice, his invitation to come out. The stone across the entrance was rolled away. I shook loose the wrappings and walked out of the tomb toward Jesus standing in the sunlight. I could feel it just as if it had happened, as if it were real. I suddenly felt liberated of all the hurt and blame and anger, like it had all just been washed away. Still today, twenty years later, every time that I feel in the grip of these memories, I recall this image and I am resurrected. I am set free from my captivity, my death, my bondage.
Was I a new person? Did my life change? In part, yes. I was at peace for the first time in years. I think it marked the beginning of a different relationship with Jesus. I had never had a vision like this before. Did I fully comprehend the meaning of the vision? I don’t think so; I think understanding unfolds slowly over time for me. Like Donald Spoto writes in Reluctant Saint of St. Francis, “his conversion was not the event of a day but the work of a lifetime.” And so, my understanding of the resurrection keeps expanding. I am beginning to understand it as my daily experience, my opportunity to experience the miracle of God’s love for me, my opportunity to follow Jesus by loving others, by helping to free them from their burial cloths.