God to the Rescue
As we move more deeply into Holy Week, I find myself still reflecting on the reading from the Gospel of John that is used in the liturgies for the Scrutinies as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults — the story of the raising of Lazarus. In our parish, we celebrate the Scrutinies as a community, with all invited to examine our own lives for areas of thirst, blindness, and death within us. Generally during the week following the third scrutiny, area parishes schedule Reconcilation services in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. The three weeks of RCIA celebrations are a good preparation for Reconciliation.
But back to the story of Lazarus. Our celebrant and homilist on the third Sunday this year was a visitor who had been pastor of our parish many years earlier. I always look forward to hearing new insights from him and I often remember homilies from those earlier years as well. This year he explained that the name Lazarus could be roughly translated as “God to the Rescue.” It comes from the Hebrew name, Eleazar, which is translated “God has helped.” In both the story of the raising of Lazarus and the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, God comes to the rescue of an individual in great need. The raising of Lazarus is one of the great signs in John’s telling of the Good News to lead us to faith in Jesus.
Another point that always strikes me in the story of the raising of Lazarus is the order Jesus gives the bystanders when Lazarus comes out of the tomb. He tells them, “Unbind him and set him free.” Lazarus can’t do it himself. And we can’t do it for ourselves.
We are each tied up by so many expectations, fears, patterns of behavior, traditions, and so forth that it can be next to impossible to try something new or to discover deeper levels of meaning or being in our lives. Going away to another community or to college can be a way that an individual becomes freed to experiment and learn who he or she is or wants to become. But not everyone has that opportunity. And for the majority of our lives, we live in communities where we are known, with people/family/friends who know us and expect certain behaviors and responses from us. Because of this each of us needs our family and friends to unbind us and set us free, just as Lazarus needed his community to set him free to live again.
In the Gospel of John, Lazarus is a “type” of the Christian disciple. He is the “everyman” character who represents all of us. We are all the ones whom God has rescued. We are all the ones freed and instructed to set the other free.
During this Holy Week, as we prepare for the Easter mysteries, plumbing the depths of sadness and rising to the peaks of joy in our liturgies, may we all be ready, like Lazarus, for God to come to our rescue, for our family and friends to set us free, and in turn to be the ones ready and willing to give that same gift to those with whom we share our lives.