In the movie The Son Of God, Jesus stepped into the tomb of Lazarus, stood behind Lazarus’ head and put his hands on the shroud where the head and shoulders of Lazarus joined to breathe new life into his dead friend.
In the Gospel, Jesus did none of these things. He stood outside the tomb and wept, respectful of the reality of death symbolized by the stone rolled across the opening of the cave.
It is striking that, at this point, Jesus gave three instructions:
to the people gathered around, He said: Take the stone away.
(after praying,) Jesus called out: Lazarus! Come out.
Once again, to the people, He said: Unbind him and let him go free.
Only God could raise Lazarus, but Jesus invited the community to participate in two other significant actions. The people were invited to take away the stone and to unbind Lazarus, newly restored to life.
In this Gospel, are we bystanders? Disinterested spectators? Do we weep and then go away? Or do we enter the freeing of others from those things from which they can’t release themselves?
Not all binding is bad. Wives and husbands bind themselves to each other in marriage, priests through ordination and women and men religious through the vowed life in community bind ourselves to Christ and to the Church. You and I can bind ourselves to the achievement of a common purpose. But the binding of Lazarus is a binding in death. I hope we are compassionate enough to unbind others from the many deaths people experience: the death of hope, the death of a loving relationship, the death of enthusiasm.
Lent is the time to give over our energies to stand with Jesus outside the tomb and be ready to do what He asks of us. In this Gospel account, our call is clear: to unbind those unable to unbind themselves. After raising Lazarus, Jesus went on with his journey to Jerusalem. He did not stay. Can we be ready to do that, too? Unbind them, and then go on.
Here is a wonderful irony to nibble on all day long: Being bound to Christ is to be free.
~Joan Sobala, SSJ