Monday, March 22, 2010

The Third Scrutiny - what does Lazarus have to say to us?

This weekend, my parish used the readings for the Third Scrutiny, focusing the theological reflection of the entire faith community on the Gospel of John account of the raising of Lazarus, as the adults readying themselves for Baptism enter their final two weeks of preparation. Although the Third Scrutiny was actually celebrated at another Mass, I could still sense the power of the presence of our two catechumens in the community.

Since our focus this Lent was on recovering the power of our own baptism, as we walk with the catechumens, our reflection on the Rite of Baptism this week focused on the Ephphetha - the opening of the ears to hear the Word of God and the opening of the mouth to speak its witness. Our pastor, in his homily, chose the figure of Martha, whose profession of faith in Jesus is a model for our own:

“Your brother will rise.”  Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,  the one who is coming into the world.”  (John 11:23-27)

In this passage lies the power of witness and a clear model for how we are to speak up for Jesus and the Gospel.
Beyond this great connection made in the homily, however, I found myself once again processing the death of my beloved friend Jim, who, coincidentally was born on the Feast of St. Lazarus. Jim's final work of art was a powerful photographic series called "Lazarus" and in his artist statement, he wrote:  "Once I was told it might be possible to live twice..."  The photos showed a variety of symbols of life, time, death and resurrection, many of them coated in pristine white paint, which "preserved" them, as did the photographs. The first photo in the series (left) featured paint-coated Easter lilies over the text of the story of Lazarus in Latin from the Vulgate.  The final photo was of rotting, spoiled fruit... not coated in paint - what would have happened to many of the other objects had they not been preserved "eternally" in the photographs.

What does the raising of Lazarus say to those of us who grieve the death of a loved one?  Since his raising was a one-time miracle  "for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it" are we to hope for anything more for us and our loved ones than the resurrection on the Last Day?  As I heard this reading yesterday, I found myself saying with Martha both "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died" and "yes, Lord I have come to believe that you are the Christ..."  In the process of grieving, that is the conundrum - the struggle between feelings of betrayal and faith - saying "Lord, if only you had been there..." and "Lord, I know you are here..."

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