How can we be ‘Easter people?’
Look to Lazarus
by Bishop Robert Reed
Rich man & the beggar
Year after year, we pass through the penitential season called Lent, and on Easter we bring back our ‘Glorias’ and ‘Alleluias’, and we feast again. We might hear that we are “Easter people.” But what does that mean? Does anything change? Are we personally renewed? We have accompanied Jesus, in a spiritual sense, through his passion, death, and resurrection.
In what ways are we changed by our personal witness to that series of events? One way we might better celebrate the season from Easter Sunday until Pentecost (and beyond) is by remembering Lazarus. If we read the Gospel carefully, we will notice that there are two men named Lazarus. So which one? Well, both actually.
In Luke 16:19–31, we have the parable of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man who ignored him. While the rich man “dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day,” Lazarus lay at his gate, covered with sores, longing to catch a few scraps that fell from the table. But in the afterlife, their places are reversed, so to speak: The beggar goes to heaven (the “bosom of Abraham”), and the rich man goes to a place of “torment.” Now it is the rich man who longs for some relief, begging Abraham to have his painful thirst assuaged by a drop of water on the tip of Lazarus’ finger. It’s not possible, though.
The choices we affirm by the end of our earthly lives are the ones we will “live with” for eternity. The rich man thus begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his still-living brothers, who yet have a chance to repent. “They have Moses and the prophets,” Abraham replies. “Let them listen to them.” The rich man then suggests, “If someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Abraham doesn’t buy it. “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,” he says, “neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Well, we do have someone who has risen from the dead: Jesus, who in his passion became poor like Lazarus; Jesus, who was covered with sores from the scourging he endured.
Through our Lenten fasting we have hopefully learned how to empathize with the hungry, the sick, and the ones left outside, such as Lazarus. Our spirit of self-denial has hopefully given us more space for prayer and meditation, allowing us to open our hearts to a deeper appreciation of the Law (i.e., the Mosaic Law) and the prophets, as well as the Gospel. Let us listen to them and allow our lives to be transformed so that the teaching of Jesus might take root in our lives and our hearts might not be hardened like the rich man’s.
No matter how poor we might be, we all have blessings in our lives that can be shared. And from time to time, a “Lazarus” crosses our path, begging to share in some of those blessings. As Easter people, who have seen a man rise from the dead, can we continue to live our lives the way the rich man lived his?
The other Lazarus in the Gospel — the brother of Martha and Mary, who lived in Bethany — is the man Jesus raised from the dead after four days in the tomb. In John 11:1–44, we see that this miraculous event took place not long before Jesus’ own passion, death, and resurrection. In fact, it was in response to this sign that the chief priests and the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin began to discuss among themselves what to do about the problem Jesus was presenting. Caiaphas, the chief priest that year, anticipated Jesus’ crucifixion when he said, “It is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish” (John 11:50).
Jesus stays in Bethany for a few days, and as if to celebrate their brother’s restoration to life, and Martha serves the Lord a feast while Mary anoints his feet with “costly perfumed oil” (see John 12:1–11). News of the miracle draws many to believe in Jesus. It would be a good “spiritual exercise,” particularly during this season, to imagine how Lazarus of Bethany must have felt when he came back from the dead and how he lived out the rest of his days.
If you were in his shoes (or his sandals), how would you have felt walking out of that cave, wrapped in the burial bands? How would your life change? Actually, we are Lazarus, because we are Adam — fallen humankind, whose sin was too great for us to repay, necessitating the Son of God to pay the debt for us. The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the saving event that has given us new life. How are we going to live it?