Saturday, April 8, 2017: Lazarus Saturday; The Holy Apostles of the Seventy Herodion, Agabus, Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon, and Hermes, Rufus the Obedient of the Kiev Caves, Celestine, Pope of Rome, The Holy New Martyr John the Ship-Builder who was martyred in Kos.
Epistle: Hebrews 12:28-29; 13:1-8
Gospel: John 11:1-45
There are two masters of the psychology of the spiritual life, one Latin, the other Greek. I mean of course St Augustine of Hippo–a saint often and uncharitably criticized and even dismissed because of the opinions of his poorer students–and St John Chrysostom–a saint we tend to honor more in the gap than in fact. Both these men come to mind as I listen to today’s Gospel and reflect on the events recounted for us.
The Apostle and Evangelist John is, rightly, called the Theologian because of the lofty nature of his teaching about the divinity of Christ. His Gospel stresses one, central insight: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NKJV).
Though the Apostle John focuses our attention on the divinity of Christ, that He is the Word of God, the Son of God and Himself God, this morning he reminds us that Jesus is God become Man. John does this by simply.
Standing at the tomb of His friend, “Jesus wept.”
Yes, He will in a moment–as God–restore His friend to life, But in this one moment, it is His humanity, not His divinity that shines through.
St Augustine says that while we “pray to him as God, He prays for us as a servant.” The One Who hears our prayer, “is the Creator,” but the One Who prayers for us is “a creature.” Though in all this He remains unchanged” by taking on “our created nature” He changes us making us “one man with himself, head and body.”
But there is a temptation here that we must resist.
We can become so enamored, so in awe, of “the divinity of the Son of God” of His “supremely great and surpassing … greatness” that when, as this morning, we hear His “sighing, praying, giving praise and thanks,” we “hesitate” as Augustine says.
We pause is because “our minds are slow to come down to his humble level when we have just been contemplating him in his divinity.” Not from pride or lack of faith but because of the awe we feel we imagine that we might be “doing him an injustice in acknowledging in a man the words of one with whom we spoke when we prayed to God.” And so, again not from a surfeit of pride or a poverty of faith, but from overwhelming joy when we hear that “Jesus wept” as any of us would weep for the loss of a loved one, we find ourselves “at a loss and try to change the meaning” of the Gospel that God became flesh and dwelt among us.”
And yet, that’s exactly what we see this morning in the Gospel.
Not just God become flesh but the glory of God. We this the divine glory in the humility and humanity of Him Who for our sake became the son of Mary, a carpenter, a teacher of the apostles, a friend to Mary., Martha and their brother Lazarus.
And, of course, to all the poor and to each of us.
And as “Jesus wept” for the death of His friend, He weeps for us, for our sin and for the many ways in which sin has disfigured our beauty.
And though we rarely see this beauty in ourselves, Jesus always sees it in us and He weeps for the scars sin leaves on our hearts.
As for that other great psychologist of the spiritual life, St John Chrysostom, what does he tell us today?
Focusing our attention on the words of the enemies of Jesus–“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”–Chrysostom says that the miracles which are the evidence of Jesus’ divinity, His enemies “turn against Him as if He had not done them.” It is because of the hardness of the human heart rather than the death of Lazarus, that causes Jesus groan, to be “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”
Like Augustine, Chrysostom reminds us that the Apostle John not only ascends higher than any of the other Evangelists in his contemplation of the Jesus’ divinity, he “also descends lower than any other in describing His bodily affections.”
The sorrow Jesus feels, Augustine says, is not simply because of His enemies’ hardness of heart. Even His intimate friends, among them Martha and Mary, don’t “fully believe” that Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead.
This why, Chrysostom says, Jesus commands the crowd to “Take away the stone.” Jesus wants “the miracle to take place in the sight of all” so that later people can’t say, as they did “in the case of the blind man, ‘This is not he.’”
Both Augustine and Chrysostom take pains to remind us of both Jesus’ divinity and humanity. They both likewise are concerned that our awe at His divinity does not overwhelm the intimacy we have with Jesus in His humanity. If we are to be saved, both of Christ’s natures are needed. Necessary as well are our two responses to God becoming flesh and dwelling among us–awe and friendship.
Yes, we must have awe at His Godhead. But this awe can’t be allowed to overwhelm the warmth and the affection that comes from an intimate friendship with our Brother Jesus.
Just as the division, separation, admixture or confusion, of the divine and human natures in Christ, is heresy, so too with awe and friendship.
Love Him, Augustine says, because “Our Lord came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” As both God and Man, as Lord and Friend, as Creator and Brother, Jesus in His great mercy and love for us says to us as He said to Lazarus: “Come forth!”
Augustine says Jesus calls us to come forth “to new life.”
Jesus says “Come forth!” to all of us who are “weighed down by any vicious habit.”
Jesus says “Come forth!” to all of us who, though “guilty under the Law,” long to be made “righteous.”
Jesus says “Come forth!” He weeps and groans so that we can live as His disciples and more than His disciples.
Today Jesus says to each of us, “Come forth!” and live as His true and intimate friend.