Friday, 4 April 2014

Notes on Lent 4: the raising of Lazarus

We now come to the last of the series of three Gospel readings used in the early Church for the instruction of baptismal candidates. The ancient Christian catechumen would have received teaching over the full forty days of Lent, all the way up to the Easter Vigil, the first Eucharist of Easter. The ancients reckoned time by the daylight, so as soon as night fell on Holy Saturday, that day ended and Easter Sunday began. That's why they held the first Eucharist of Easter at night. It was, after all, first thing in the morning when Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, so Jesus must have risen overnight. And so, we carry on that tradition nowadays at our Easter Vigil, the most profound service of the Christian year, when the Easter Candle is lit, the ancient Exsultet is sung, the Gloria rings out for the first time since before Lent, coverings are stripped from the images and statues, the new faithful are baptised and the Resurrection is celebrated, as every Sunday, in bread and wine.

So, having learnt in the last two readings about Baptism, through the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and confirmation, through the gift of sight to the man born blind, the candidate would now learn about the final mystery of the Christian religion and the promise it bears.The candidate would prepare to receive for the first time the Eucharist, and with it, the joys of eternal life.

Jesus raises Lazarus only as a sign of the resurrection that awaits Him and, through Him, all of us who receive His body and blood. Lazarus is raised back in this world and this life, and will die again. But the resurrection that we are given in Christ transforms us into something new, something we can barely imagine. We are to our resurrection bodies what a caterpillar is to a butterfly: what bread and wine are to the body and blood of Christ.

The challenge for us is to see with the eyes of faith that the potential of the resurrection is hidden within ourselves even now, just as the potential to be a butterfly is hidden in every caterpillar. The Eucharist trains us to see this truth, as we recognise in the bread and wine that we give up to God something far more profound returned to us from Him: something which unites us to each other, to our departed brothers and sisters in Christ, and to Him.

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