Around the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus is an often-overlooked frame of our Lord’s travels around the countryside of Palestine and the building tension surrounding Him. The selections from the Gospel of St. John these past few weeks have all had a brooding undercurrent, a darkening cloud settling around the public ministry of our Lord. The leaders of the Jewish people are intent upon killing Him.
This is why the Apostles urge our Lord not to return to Galilee, despite His dear friend Lazarus’s deadly illness. He has just escaped death there, and now He wants to return to the stronghold of His enemies. And thus the touching and beautiful words of St. Thomas, urging his fellow Apostles to accompany their Lord and master in this hour of trial: “Let us also go to die with him.”
Though it may seem dark or morbid, I want to challenge you all today to make these words of St. Thomas your own as well: “Let us also go to die with Him.” Just as Christ’s enemies plotted against Him two thousand years ago, so today many plot against Him and His holy Church. And too often, our Lord lacks disciples who are willing to go and to die with Him.
So often, we want to experience the Resurrection – to jump to the end of today’s Gospel – without experiencing Christ’s Passion, without being willing to die with Him. We want God to hear and answer our prayers for all the blessings for which we ask Him, but we can miss the point of what being His followers is all about. Being a Christian means being conformed to Christ, modeling our lives on Him, which means modeling our lives on His Passion and death, so that we can experience His Resurrection.
Today too, many people plot as the leaders of the Jews did against the Lord, and today too His disciples are called to be willing to go to die with Him. We should be willing to die with the Lord in the face of the cultural affliction of relativism. That is, when people claim that there really is no such thing as absolute truth, when right or wrong are determined by each person’s feelings, when people claim the right to define their own identity as they see fit and not as God made them, will you stand up for the truth? Will you be willing to be ridiculed as intolerant, prejudiced, or being on the wrong side of history? Will you be willing to go and die with Him there?
When others succumb to materialism and selfishness, making material things and their own pleasures their life’s pursuit rather than serving others, what will you do? When your children, victims of powerful commercial forces capable of altering their desires and values, pressure you for the latest gadgets, do you cave to their pleas or force them to learn the value of discipline and sacrifice? When others place their IRA balance or vacations ahead of generously welcoming children into their families, what will you say? Are you willing to be ridiculed as boring, uninteresting, or behind the times? Will you go to die with Him there?
When you feel like you are the only parents attempting to enforce discipline, structure, and right moral conduct for your children, are you willing to risk being called obsessive, old-fashioned, or psycho? Are you willing to go to die with Him there?
You see, my brothers and sisters in Christ, being willing to go to die with our Savior is not just something for two thousand years ago, it is not just for the martyrs of mission lands; it is something for our here and now, for the everyday lives of all of His followers. When the Apostles warn our Lord not to return to Galilee lest He be killed, He responds cryptically, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
The children of this world, those who choose to remain in selfishness, materialism, and relativism, walk by the night, and thus they stumble. But there is no need to walk by night, no need to fear the darkness! With Christ, we can go confidently ahead, no matter what persecution or shame we might experience. We heard from St. Paul today, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” When we give in to the works of darkness, when we are not willing to die with the Lord, we are attempting to live a lie. Choosing the honor of the world, choosing materialism, selfishness, and relativism over God’s saving truth, is to choose to live in slavery to sin instead of the freedom that following Christ brings. This is the truth of who we are as God’s sons and daughters by Baptism, free to do what is good and right, what will truly bring us happiness both here on earth and forever in Heaven, thanks to God’s grace.
If you are willing to die with Christ, willing to suffer the hatred and rebuke of the world as He did, it is then that you will attain to the glory of the Resurrection like Lazarus. Furthermore, the closing lines of the Gospel today tell us that, “Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what [Jesus] had done began to believe in him.” If you are willing to suffer and die with Christ, then the fruits of His Resurrection will spring up around you. “How are they to believe in him,” St. Paul asks in another letter, “of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14).
My brothers and sisters in Christ, you must be those preachers! You must be the ones who are willing to face the scorn of the world in order to bring the light of His saving truth into the darkness of this world, so that more men and women might walk in the day instead of stumble in the darkness.
We are now entering the closing days of Lent, the season historically known as Passiontide, when our focus turns intently upon the crucified Savior. Make sure to take time in these remaining two weeks to pray before the Crucifix, to contemplate the Passion of the Lord, and to think about the ways that you, in your own situation in life, are called also to go and die with Him.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Ft. Wayne
V Sunday in Lent (11:00 a.m.)