Journeying Together is a weekly series of Lenten reflections. Each Monday during Lent, a student or adult from the Prep community will share a reflection, which will be archived here. Our fourth reflection comes from Mr. John Morris, Dean of Students.
“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
In John’s Gospel, we hear the story of Lazarus—the “one whom Jesus loved”—raised from death, after having suffered an illness. How acutely distressing this story can sound now, during this unwieldy time of global viral outbreak. And yet, if we can let the story of Lazarus calmly take root within our minds and hearts–where Jesus is always waiting to encounter each of us–healing and faith can reveal the saving power of God, the source of all life and joy.
Jesus, after being told about the sickness and then death of his beloved friend Lazarus, tells his disciples that he will go to “awaken” Lazarus from “sleep,” and they mistakenly take Jesus literally. If asleep, they say, then Lazarus will be saved. We hear in their words the notion that all is well, as long as Lazarus is still alive—salvation is reduced to earthly life continuing, uninterrupted, as it were, and without the darkness and doom of the spectre of death.
I must admit that I have found tuning in daily to the news of the effects of COVID-19 across our planet and its people an experience of encountering the “darkness and doom” of this current reality. Fear and despair have become the backdrop to our daily experience of the world around us–for most of us, quarantined at home, but for others, an ongoing struggle to help life go on—medical personnel, first responders, food industry folks, and more. And every day brings sharp increases in the numbers of those affected by this virus, from positive tests to sickness and even to death.
In the Gospel account, Lazarus does indeed lose his life, his body overcome by sickness, and Jesus was not present when the moment of death occurred. When he arrives at the house of the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, four days have passed since Lazarus had died. Jesus is “perturbed and deeply troubled,” the Gospel account tells us. When I imagine Jesus in this scene, I understand him feeling troubled because of the responses of others to Lazarus’ death. There is an apparent sense that death shows a failing (of God, of life), and this is not Jesus’ understanding of the Father.
Even in death, God is life. Even when weak and dying, God is strength and hope. Even when earthly life is lost, the eternal soul is fully found forever, and ever.
When the miracle occurs (Jesus’ calling to Lazarus, “Come out” of your tomb, and the dead man rises, still wrapped in his burial cloths), that which is eternal is done local and in the moment, so that, as he told his disciples, “you may believe.”
The challenge of the story of Lazarus—here in this pandemic of 2020—is that Jesus will not likely be telling thousands and thousands across the globe, who will have died from complications due to the coronavirus, to return to earthly life. The challenge is for us to have faith that, with Jesus, we are always rooted in life. Let us not forget that Jesus, too, wept to know that Lazarus had passed on from the everyday reality of life and human connection. Many, many during this time will know that feeling. But in almost the same moment, Jesus will address his Father and say, “Thank you for hearing me….so that this crowd will believe that you have sent me.”
Mr. John Morris, Dean of Students
You can find all of our weekly Journeying Together reflections here.