We remember Jesus saying these words in the beginning of John’s gospel. Two of the disciples of John the Baptist had asked Jesus “Where do you live?”, because they wanted to get to know him. Jesus answered “come and see”, thus giving them an opportunity to experience his life. It was an invitation to enter into a new, fuller kind of life which he alone could give. Now, towards the end of John’s gospel, we have the same phrase, this time uttered by the sisters of the dead Lazarus. Rather than an invitation to experience life, Lazarus’ sisters are inviting Jesus to visit a cold tomb, the place of the dead. Little did they know what was in store for them!
Visiting the tomb of a loved one is never easy, especially if the person’s death was very recent. Lazarus had only been dead four days. The sisters were grieving. They expressed anger. Why did Jesus take so long to come to them? Why did he waste two whole days when the news came to him that Lazarus was gravely ill? Jesus feels their pain. And Jesus cries. Contrary to what some think, Jesus did not cry because Lazarus had died. The story clearly tells us that he knew that he was going to raise him up. Jesus’ tears are tears of compassion. He feels and shares the pain of Mary and Martha, and he accompanies them to where the tomb was, feeling “greatly disturbed” the gospel tells us, along the way. The two disciples of the first story accepted Jesus’ invitation to go and see, to share with and experience his life, and they are changed by that experience which opens for them true life. Now, Jesus accepts the sisters’ invitation to go and see, to share with them that moment of pain. Lazarus had been dead four days, and as Martha rightly tells Jesus, there is already a stench. Had Jesus arrived earlier, there could have been some hope for a cure, a miracle. But now there is definitely no hope. Jesus accompanies Mary and Martha in their suffering, in their hopelessness, in their pain.
From then on we know what happened. Jesus orders Lazarus to come out, and tells the people to unbind him, to set him free.
As we continue with our journey towards the celebration of Easter, we realize that in our lives we often share Mary’s and Martha’s experience. We find ourselves in situations where hope seems to be lost, when we feel the need to express anger at the Lord: Where have you been when I needed you? What took you so long? During this time of pandemic I’ve heard it said, “Where is God in all this?” In our sorrowful, desperate prayer Jesus enters. Like he did with the two sisters, he journeys with us. He is not indifferent. He shares with us the pain, the sorrow, the struggle, the fears and the tears. But not to stay there. Once more, he invites us to come out of our misery, giving us power to be set free, free from our fears, from our guilts, from our past, to experience new life.
Never has such a message been as appropriate for us as it is this year. Covid-19 invites us to lose hope, to see only darkness, to think there is no way out. Many of us might be suffering due to loss of a job, due to fear (or, rather, terror!) at the first sign of a cough or sore throat, or due to the death of a loved one. The celebration of Easter which we are soon to celebrate invites us to remember that yes, all this is real. Jesus did experience death. But he proved to be more powerful than that.
With him, life is possible again.