We began our Lenten journey to Easter by “remembering.” The words, "Remember, O man, thou art but dust and unto dust thou shalt return" were spoken to us as we were marked with ashes. We were reminded of what we are: we are but dust; we will die.
The Ash Wednesday “remembering of death” actually draws us closer to Easter by reminding us of life at the same time as we remember death. The great Lenten Gospel readings which we hear from St. John are filled with life: Jesus, the source of the water of life, awakens and quenches the thirst of the woman of Samaria who is caught in sin and death; Jesus, the light of the world, enters into the darkness of the man born blind; Jesus, the Word of life, speaks, and Lazarus rises from the dead.
In the account of the raising of Lazarus we cannot help but remember the gift of life God gives to us in Jesus. The whole story speaks about life, even in a story about death. Here are the bare bones of what happened: the two sisters, Mary and Martha, have a brother named Lazarus. All of them are friends of Jesus. Lazarus becomes very ill, and his sisters send for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus before he dies. Jesus waits for two days before returning to Bethany to see Lazarus. Meanwhile Lazarus dies.
Throughout this story there is a tension between death and life. When Jesus arrived, the family and friends of Lazarus were filled with grief. Jesus met Martha who turned to Him for the gift of life. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."
Surrounded by weeping and grieving, Jesus looks up and thanks His heavenly Father for hearing Him and then He cries with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" As Lazarus came out, Jesus turned to those who had gathered and said, "Unbind him, and let him go."
And with those words we have a picture of how Jesus would work in the future, as He establishes His Church, and then ministers through it. With Christ’s call to Lazarus to come out, the power and the reality of God’s Kingdom was manifested very clearly to that little group standing outside of the mouth of the tomb. And then Jesus asked them to do something. He asked them to unbind Lazarus and let him go free. Jesus was linking, in an inextricable way, His work, and our role in that work.
St. Paul affirms this in his letter to the Romans. He wrote, "If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through the Spirit who dwells in you." And because of that, so the mission of the Church – our mission - becomes one of releasing others from death, from the things that kill the soul. The story of what happened at the raising of Lazarus helps us remember we are Children of the Resurrection. We are to give the gift of life to others through Jesus Christ who is present with us. Death and life, as St. John records these events, are so close together that one of them cannot be without the other. “Remember O Man, thou art but dust, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Those were the words with which we began Lent, and those words are the gateway to life.
This is the Good News of Easter. This is the good news of the Church founded by Jesus Christ to unbind people and set them free. The message is the same – that even though “we are but dust” God doesn’t leave us there. Even in this life, Jesus is constantly calling to people, “Come out…!” He wants people to “come out” from sin and from those things that kill. He wants people to “come out” from those things that stop them from being all that they could be. He has established His Church which has the job of “unbinding” people after they have been called – unbinding them by a clear preaching of the Gospel; unbinding them by bringing them into the sacramental life which He has given to us..
Jesus called out to Lazarus – He called him out of the tomb, out of the stench and darkness of death – and He commanded others to “unbind” him. It couldn’t be clearer: we belong to Christ and we are to live and speak and minister in ways which unbind those who were bound, and to bring them into that fellowship with Christ and His Church, which is a place of freedom, a place of holiness, a place of new life.