Tag Archives: Lazarus

What Does the Risen Christ Look LIke?

Many of us  learned our faith from catechisms and sermons and pictures on the windows and walls of our churches. Xavier Leon-Dufour begins his classic work (Resurrection and the Message of Easter, New York, 1971) remembering trying to reconcile images he saw on the church windows of his youth with the gospel accounts he studied later. In art Jesus often appears as a revived corpse, his body and clothing brighter than before..

The church window above, based on Matthew’s Gospel, changes the way the gospel tells the resurrection story. Similar images appear often, especially in the Easter season.  Jesus risen from the dead appears like Lazarus raised from the tomb. But resurrection is different from resuscitation.

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.” Mt 28,1-5

According to Matthew, an angel descends from heaven, rolls back the stone and strikes fear in the guards at the tomb. Our stained glass window depicts Jesus Christ stepping from the tomb striking fear into the guards. The angel becomes an onlooker wearing green, the color of hope. Jesus looks rather like he did before he died and he would be recognized immediately.

The gospels, however, indicate he was changed. Mary Magdalene and the others have difficulty recognizing him– he’s changed. The disciples on the way to Emmaus recognize him after he quotes the scriptures and, finally,  breaks bread with them. The disciples at the lakeshore in Galilee are not sure who is he, until they eat with him.

The Risen Lord has entered another realm of existence. He is risen.  He remains with us mysteriously.  He does not blind us with  light, as he did Paul the Apostle. He does not appear in bodily form, as he was before his death. He  comes to us risen, risen indeed. Now, we meet him in the scriptures and the “breaking of the bread.” Also, just as mysteriously, we see him in the least. “When did we see you?”  is the question raised at judgment.

Early Christian art as seen in the 4th century portrayal from catacombs below, recognizing the mystery of the Resurrection, used symbolism to represent the Risen Christ. Jesus entered a new existence in his resurrection. It’s hard for artists and for us to depict that existence.

I mentioned Xavier Leon-Dufour earlier. Here’s what he said about the Risen Jesus:

“To speak of the resurrection of Jesus is to affirm that death has been conquered in one man at least: and to say that he lives forever is boldly to locate oneself at the end of time. It is a challenge for the unbeliever to revise his idea of life: for if one man is alive forever after his death, why not should the same be so for all men at the end of time? Why should there not be after death an existence called heaven?”  In that existence “life is changed, not ended.”

Resurrection

Do Not Cling To Me

“Do not cling to me.” Jesus says to Mary Magdalen in the Easter gospel. His words seem dismissive, but they’re not.

His resurrection was not the same as the resurrection of Lazarus his friend. When Lazarus came from the tomb they took the winding sheets from his body and saw immediately he was the same Lazarus they knew before. No doubt his sisters, Martha and Mary, embraced him and brought him home where he continued his life as before.

Living again, Lazarus did what he always did; he spoke, he ate, he thought as before. On the fateful week Jesus died, he sat at table with him and all recognized him as Lazarus who had died and came from the dark tomb after four days.

Eventually, he died again, as we all must do.

But when Jesus rose from the dead, he took on a new existence. He did not return to his ordinary life and he cannot die again. He was changed and became the first to enter a new life, a new world. He is “the first fruits” of those who die, scripture says; we are meant to follow him.

He goes before us. “Stop holding on to me,” he tells Mary, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go tell my brothers, ‘ I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

He does not dismiss Mary; he invites her to follow him.She does not follow him alone; she remains to tell others he is going forward to his God and their God. We will follow him.

Monday of Holy Week

Lent 1
Readings
John’s gospel describes  a meal in Bethany  honoring Jesus following the resurrection of Lazarus.(John 12,1-11) It’s the last meal before the Passover supper. His gift of life leads to a sentence of death.

Faithful Martha serves the meal; Lazarus newly alive, is at the table. But the one drawing most of our attention is Mary, their sister who, sensing what’s coming, kneels before Jesus to anoint his feet with precious oil and dry them with her hair. “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

The precious oil, an effusive sign of her love and gratitude, also anoints Jesus for his burial. Only in passing does the gospel mention that evil is in play here. Judas, “the one who would betray him,” complains that the anointing is a waste, but his voice is silenced. Believers are honoring the one they love.

How fitting that Holy Week begins with this gospel when, like Mary, we kneel and pour out the precious oil of our love upon him whose precious life is poured out for us.

“May the holy cross of our good Jesus be ever planted in our hearts so that our souls may be grafted onto this tree of life and by the infinite merits of the death of the Author of life we may produce worthwhile fruits of penance.” (St. Paul of the Cross,Letter 11)

Let my prayer rise up before you like incense,
The raising of my hands like an evening offering. Ps 141
Your sentence to death frees us,
Your blood is poured out for us,
We breathe the fragrance of your love.

Martha, Martha

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We read St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit to Bethany for the Feast of St. Martha. It’s part of Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 10,38-42), a journey Luke describes,  not by miles, but by the people Jesus meets.

Jesus is a prophet speaking God’s word as he goes. Some reject him outright on his way to Jerusalem.  Jesus enters the house of Martha and Mary as a prophet speaking God’s word. Unfortunately Martha, busy about many things, misses his word and Jesus rebukes her. Mary hears his word and is praised. Good as she is, Martha’s carrying too many of the “cares of this life” when Jesus visits.

That’s what Luke wants us to learn from this gospel- the cares of this life can get in the way of hearing God’s word. But we all know there’s more to Martha than what Luke tells us here. Other New Testament sources praise this good woman.  John’s gospel, for example, says that  Jesus was a long time friend of Lazarus and his sisters in Bethany.

I keep two other sources in mind when I read Luke’s story.  One is a painting (above) by the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, showing Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist imagines a supper at Bethany. The table’s set for four people– that would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. But look at the others coming in the door. Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One disciple gestures towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands in frustration, “What are we going to do?”
There will be no miracle. The miracle is Martha’s hospitality. Thanks to her,  more than four are going to be fed. We need artists like di Milano to flesh out what the gospels say.

The other source I like is St. Augustine who obviously has a soft spot for Martha and the work she does. Both Martha and Mary had the same holy desire, Augustine says: “ They stayed close to our Lord and both served him harmoniously when he was among them.”

Martha served him as the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.

“You, Martha, if I may say so, will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarreling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”

Want to see Bethany, home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Take a look here.

16th Sunday: Martha and Mary

Martha Mary 2

To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:

This Sunday at Mass we read from the Gospel of Luke about the visit of Jesus to Martha and Mary.

It’ s hard for us to keep the gospels separate and let each evangelist tell the story he wants to tell, and so when we hear about Martha and Mary in Luke’s gospel, we can’t help but think about the Martha and Mary in John’s gospel, who live in Bethany, whose brother Lazarus dies and whom Jesus will raise from the dead.

In John’s gospel Martha seems to shine, as she runs to meet Jesus and expresses her faith  when her brother dies:

“’Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’

“Jesus said to her, ‘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,kand everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”* lShe said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’” (John 11, 21-27)

You can’t ask for a stronger expression of faith than that, can you?

But Luke presents the two women differently in his gospel. So let’s hear his story. This is the only mention Luke makes of Martha and Mary in his gospel. It’s all he tells us about them. He doesn’t say they live in Bethany or that they have a brother named Lazarus who died and was raised.

No, this story is part of Luke’s journey narrative of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Luke wants to tell us that Jesus the prophet is making his way to Jerusalem and when he enters your house you should listen to him. That’s what Mary does, she listens to him. Martha is too concerned with taking care of things and she misses what he says.

I suppose we can say that like Martha we can get so caught up with what we’re doing that we miss what Jesus the prophet wants to say to us. We might be doing very good things, but we all need to listen more. We might be the best people, but even the best people may not listen enough.

Still, I  find it hard not to praise  Martha as we listen to Luke’s gospel. St. Augustine obviously had a soft spot for her. He says that Martha cared for the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. “She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.

“Martha, if I may say so, you will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarrelling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”

Saturday, 5th Week of Lent

ReadingsLent 1
The reading today (John 11,45-56) describes what happens after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Unable to accept him, the Jewish leaders decide to put him to death. Their meeting anticipates the final meeting of the Sanhedrin, which will seek the death sentence from Pilate, the Roman procurator, before the feast of Passover.

Caiaphas, the high priest,  sees political consequences if Jesus isn’t stopped– the Romans will step in at the slightest sign of a political troublemaker. But  John’s gospel sees divine consequences when evil is pitted against good. The high priest’s own words predict God’s reversal: “ he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”

The passion and resurrection of Jesus is God’s great sign that good triumphs over evil. God has the last word and, difficult as it is, we’re called to believe in his power to triumph over evil, however entrenched it may seem to be in our world and in our lives.

Mystics like Paul of the Cross firmly believed in God’s power to reverse evil and turn things to the good; their vision was nourished by meditation on the passion of Jesus.
“Just as our dear Jesus spent his life here on earth to be ever spent in the midst of hardships, labors, privations, anguish, scorn, calumnies, thorns and the cruel death of the cross, so he made me realize that in embracing him, I must live my life in the midst of suffering. And oh, with what joy did my poor soul embrace every kind of hardship!” (Letter 51)

Lord, I thank you for dying on the cross
and bringing life to the world.

Give me faith to believe in your victory over evil.