Tag Archives: Lazarus

The Feast of the Ascension

 

I was in the local Barnes and Noble Bookstore recently and in the religion section noticed a good number of books on heaven. Most of these, as far as I can judge, are accounts of people who say they’ve been there or just about and are reporting on their experience. Heaven’s an item of interest today.

The Feast of the Ascension is our basic book on heaven. Look to Jesus Christ who promises us a home there. The Ascension is part of the Easter mystery. On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead and for forty days, the scriptures say, he ate and drank and met with his disciples to build up their faith. Then, he ascended into heaven.

Rising from the dead was not the end of his story. He rose from the dead but did continue life on earth. He did not rise like those whom he himself raised from the dead, like Lazarus whom he called from the tomb and the little girl and the dead son of a widow of Naim. They went back to ordinary life. Jesus did not.

No, after he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, our creed says. He entered another world beyond this one, a world greater than this one. There, from a place of great power, he extends his promise and power to us here on earth.

Because he was to ascend, he told Mary Magdalene in the garden after rising, “Do not hold me, I must ascend to my father and your father.” Jesus had to ascend to heaven, to his home and ours.

The mysterious way Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection points to the impermanence of this life and the finality of a heavenly life. His risen appearances are brief; he appears in a veiled way. He appears to his disciples mainly to assure them that he lives and to give them the promise of life eternal.

Why don’t we know more about heaven? It’s a mystery we hope for rather than understand. “Eye has not seen, or ear heard, or has it entered the human mind, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Heaven is our place of rest, the final place we’re meant to be, and so we pray for those who die: “Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord.”

The Rich Man and Lazarus

In the parable from Luke that we read this Sunday the rich man is so absorbed in himself and his “good” life that he sees nothing else, not the poor man at his door nor his own inevitable death and judgment. Living in the bubble of the present, nothing else, no one else matters to him.

Jesus often warns against this kind of blindness. The scriptures are filled with similar warnings too. Psalm 49 says “In his riches, man lacks wisdom; he is like the beasts that are destroyed” (Psalm 49). Having too much can make you lose perspective.

It would be a mistake to see this parable directed only to the rich, however. That same psalm calls for “people both high and low, rich and poor alike” to listen.

You don’t have to be rich to be like the rich man in the parable. People who don’t have much can also be small-minded and shortsighted and self-absorbed and blind to those around them. Not only the rich, but we all can be self-centered and locked in our own small worlds, in love with success and blind to the poor at our gate.

The parable says that we’re destined for a life beyond this and how we live and how we help one another now is really what matters. We won’t be judged by how well we took care of ourselves, or the honors we have accumulated. We’ll be judged by how we reached out to one another, especially the poorest, the slowest, and those who seem to fail at life.

The rich man in the parable suddenly became aware of this. He finds himself left out, with not a drop of water to quench his thirst. The tables are turned.

Jesus’ parable reminds us that the kind of blindness the rich man has is very difficult to break down. “Send someone back from the dead to tell my brothers,” the rich man pleads. But even if someone comes back from the dead, they will not believe.

No matter how often we hear them, the parables of Jesus have their surprises. Did you notice that the rich man has no name in the parable, yet the poor man does? His name is Lazarus. Probably in his lifetime, everyone knew the rich man’s name, as one of the rich and famous. Probably few knew the name of the beggar looking for scraps of food at the rich mans’s door.

But God knew poor Lazarus’ name. He knew Lazarus on earth and beyond this life in heaven. Probably a good test: how many Lazarus’s do we know?

Lord,
source of all good,
good beyond what we have or can see,
give us wisdom to know you and your gifts
and to see others as you see and love them.
Like the blind man, we want to see.
Amen.

The Passover Meal

During these days of Holy Week I’ve been thinking of the Passionist house of St. Martha in Bethany where I stayed about a week a few years ago. Looking eastward from the roof of the house on a clear day you can see down to the Judean desert miles away. The ancient road Galilean pilgrims took to Jerusalem for the feasts began there in Jericho and passed by this site. The Passionist house stands over parts of the ancient village of Bethany; 1st century ruins stretch out on its eastern side. From the roof you could see the traditional tomb of Lazarus if the modern Israeli security wall didn’t block your view.

It’s a place that stirs your imagination.

Most likely Jesus lived here with his friends during Jewish feasts when he came from Galilee. It was the obvious place for Galilean pilgrims to camp in those times when the city would be so crowded. The Mount of Olives just west of Bethany was sometimes called the “Mount of the Galileans.” Here Jesus would likely be among friends, like Martha, Mary and Lazarus. A safe place. From here he walked to Jerusalem, a few miles away, over the Mount of Olives to teach and pray in the temple. Likely, followers from Galilee would accompany him back and forth, and they were armed.

Would this explain why the temple leaders reached out to an insider like Judas as a way of capturing Jesus, who seemed so secure? Perhaps his disciples thought so too; they’re so complacently confident that nothing will happen to him. They’ll take care of that.

“Where do you want us to prepare the Passover supper for you?” his disciples ask (Matthew 26,27) Surely, Jesus could have chosen to eat the Passover there in Bethany, which Jewish law saw as part of Jerusalem in times of feasts when the city’s population multiplied. It would have been a meal among his own, like that he enjoyed after raising Lazarus from the dead.And it would have been safer.

Instead, he chose to eat the Passover close by the temple. The traditional site of the Last Supper places the site just south of the temple. They would have eaten it there, as the lambs were being slaughtered for sacrifice. It certainly wasn’t a place chosen for security.

A Meal in Bethany

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On the Monday of Holy Week John’s gospel (John 12,1-11) calls us to a meal honoring Jesus in Bethany following the resurrection of Lazarus. It’s the last meal recorded in the gospels before the Passover supper. The gift of life that Jesus gives his friend 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 is an effusive sign of her love and gratitude; it 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 who pours out his precious life for us.

The Tomb of Lazarus

I visited the tomb of Lazarus in November 2010 while in the Holy Land. It’s only a few hundred yards from the Passionist house, St Martha, in Bethany, where I was staying, but because of the Israeli security wall you now have to drive about 13 miles around the wall to get there.

Some sisters from the nearby Comboni convent drove me there on their way to go food shopping one day. As I approached the tomb a group of about 30 pilgrims from one of the slavic countries were entering the tomb, so I stayed outside till they left. During the 2nd World War over 40 million people were killed by Hitler and Stalin in what’s been called “The Bloodlands,” parts of Eastern Europe that were fought over so viciously. Were these people going down to the tomb from that part of the world, bringing memories of “The Bloodlands,” I wondered?

They started to sing in harmony their beautiful eastern chants and the haunting, glorious music came up from the dark rock cavern below. Lazarus was being celebrated again and his tomb rang with their joyful song.

“Lazarus, come out!”

And not only were they celebrating the raising of Lazarus but our hope of resurrection too.

The dark tomb was still ringing with their singing when I went in. Joyful song from a tomb. Lazarus represents us all. That’s the powerful message from our gospel today which prepares us for the life-giving death of Jesus.

 

 

Meal at Bethany

John 12, 1-11

John’s Gospel read today calls us to a meal honoring Jesus in Bethany following the Resurrection of Lazarus. It’s the last meal before the Passover supper. The gift of life that Jesus gives his friend 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 is an effusive sign of her love and gratitude; it 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 who pours out his precious life for us.

The Second Tomb

Right down the street from where I’m staying these days–in Bethany–is the traditional tomb of Lazarus. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, you remember, and stories of that famous incident and other events from Bethany figure large in the New Testament.

I went over to the Franciscan bookstore near the Joppa Gate this morning and got a small book on Bethany which goes into the history of this tomb and what archeologists have found as they dig and dig. Actually, they have stopped digging–for the present.

Surely, like the tomb of Jesus, the tomb of Lazarus would be remembered. Egeria, the 4th century nun, who was to all these places, says that there were so many people at Lazarus’ tomb  when she was there that they packed the whole church and all the fields around. For Christian pilgrims Lazarus played a vital part in the story of Jesus.

Right now, the Franciscans, the Greek Orthodox and the Muslims (who venerate Lazarus, by the way) are all around his tomb together. It looks like the same war over turf that goes on at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Raising Lazarus from the dead was the final sign God gave before raising Jesus from the dead, John’s gospel says. It’s a miracle telling us we shall share in his resurrection.

Political reasons weren’t the only thing that brought Jesus to his death, it was his claim to be the way, the truth and life. The miracle brought people from Jerusalem to see a man who came from the dead and the one who raised him. The authorities reckoned that Lazarus would have to be taken care of too.

The believers were here in Bethany; not many in the temple, according to John’s gospel. Like Martha, carrying her pots and pans, they believed he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, who  brings life to the whole world. That’s why Bethany, and Lazarus, are important.

I spent today at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, watching the crowds pile into the dark church and sat for some time in “Adam’s Cave” next to Calvary on a bench looking at the exposed rock where the crucifixion took place.  A stuffy guide came in with two Englishmen and said, “Look at that fellow over there, he’s sitting on the tomb of Baldwin 1, one of the first Crusader rulers of Jerusalem and doesn’t even know it.” I went back and looked up Jerome Murphy O’Connor who says the Greeks removed that tomb in 1809.

So much for experts.