One person’s heart attack, that violent assault, has a tidal wave of impact on others. It changes everything so quickly. For others, the attack can disrupt relationships, challenge assumptions and speak of mortality to the unwilling. Somehow, it is a moment that demands reassessment of what we are all about, how we want to live and spend our time. The Gospel for this Fifth Sunday of Lent juxtaposes with that reality in describing the reaction to the death of Lazarus. But this year, that carries a whole different depth.
As a child, the story of Lazarus was miraculous, and I marveled at Jesus’ skills and intent. Then, as I grew older, it became a story with deeper nuances about friendship and family. I saw the cast of characters in a whole different way: the disciples, the locals, Jesus, Mary and Martha. There were layers of interaction that had eluded me earlier: now I could see the power of death, the weight of grief and grace of being present to one another. As a student, I even glimpsed the science that could explain this miracle. But now, that I have reached a different space, the story is a companion on the road to diminishment, a reminder of what really matters in life. For perhaps the first time, the interdependence of all these characters, the web of relationships and the connectedness spoke so quietly and so firmly of the profound need we each have for one another.
It is tempting to think that we live in isolation in this life. The Gospel is a reminder that we do not. In fact, it clearly establishes a context of human recognition of each other and the roles we play in one another’s lives. The disciples and Mary and Martha see something unique in Jesus and choose one another. They identify and name Him, just as we do for one another. And he interacts with them in a caring and compassionate way. There is no pretext, no indecision. He follows through on the connections and travels to Lazarus’ burial place. And there, He reveals that He is not acting alone either: Jesus calls upon the Father. It is all about the interdependence among us, and a celebration of those connections, a drawing upon one another for strength and for courage, for the next steps.
It was only recently that I discovered another caveat about the story itself. “Lazarus” has multiple meanings. Some sources indicate that it means, “God will help”. “Helpless” is another attributed meaning. There is the intersection with diminishment. In so many ways, we are all helpless at various points, grateful for the support and presence of others. The Gospel affirms that it is definitely okay to be helpless, to have surrendered to what is clearly beyond our control. Mary and Martha do that, Lazarus does that, Jesus does that. It is in those very moments that God meets us…if only we recognize him, name him, turn to him. It turns out that this is not a story about death but about the wonders of life and the glory of interdependence.