“Today you will go into the Tomb of Lazarus,” said the America Media pilgrim leader to the 106 faithful. “Think about one thing in your life right now that is getting in the way of your relationship with God. When you are in the tomb, bring that to mind. And. Leave. It. There. Walk out of the tomb with a new start.” His words of wisdom resonated with me, for I knew exactly what I wanted so much to leave behind.
The Tomb of Lazarus is in the tiny village of Bethany. At present Bethany is in Palestinian hands and separated from Jerusalem by a 30-foot wall built by the Israelis. Like any wall, it is a partition that is meant to divide, to separate. From Bethany to Jerusalem, it is a mere mile-and-a-half walk, something Jesus likely did multiple times. Now, because of the wall, it is no longer an easy trip from Bethany to Jerusalem.
We reflected that morning on the fact that Jesus had friends. We tend to focus more on the divinity of Jesus —his preaching, his healing, his miracles, his resurrection. But he was fully human, too, and friends are part of being human. The word “friend” is not used to describe Lazarus, but Jesus and Lazarus had to have been.
We know from Scripture that Jesus spent time with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. We know that he taught them and that he ate with them. What else would he have done? Did he spend nights in their home? Did they stay up late at night to just chat? Did they tell jokes and laugh? Did they play games and have fun? Did they attend synagogue on the Sabbath and pray with each other? Did Jesus read from the Torah while in their home?
Isn’t this what friends do? Who are our friends and how do we show them how much we appreciate them?
In JN 11:5, it says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” In JN 11:35, “Jesus wept” when Jesus saw Mary weeping and when it hit him that Lazarus was dead. Jesus, of course, knew what he was about to do, but he loved his friend. And his friend whom he loved had died.
In a previous article in this newspaper, I wrote about the sudden termination of a friendship that I cherished. This broke my heart and led me into a dark depression. The emotional pain of this loss and my helplessness to do anything about it was still present with me while on this pilgrimage.
Perhaps his greatest miracle, Jesus raised his dear beloved friend from the dead. What was their conversation like that evening at home? Could it be possible that Lazarus may have been a bit annoyed at being “yanked” from heaven back to this world? Yet, because of their deep friendship, this foursome would have been comfortable saying anything to each other. It is what friends do. Friends tell friends anything because they love each other for who they are.
A spiritual director knew of my pain. When I told her I had prayed for the grace of healing prior to beginning this pilgrimage, she suggested that I ask Jesus to sit with me when I was feeling the pain, the depression. Losing this friendship has profoundly affected me and I realized that I had not asked Jesus to sit with me during my many moments of sorrow.
In the television series “The West Wing,” Leo McGarry, the president’s chief of staff tells this story:
A guy is walking down the street and falls into a hole. The walls are too steep and he can’t climb out. A doctor walks by and the guy shouts, “Hey, Doc! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription and tosses it down to him.
A minister walks by and the guy shouts, “Hey, Reverend! Can you help me out?” The minister jots down a prayer and tosses it down to him.
A friend walks by and the guy shouts, “Hey, Joe! Can you help me out?” His friend immediately jumps down into the hole. The guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”
His friend says, “Yeah. But I’ve been here before and I know the way out.”
Jesus is my friend. I believe he will help me out.
One has to climb down a steep set of steps, facing backward as if descending a ladder, to enter the Tomb of Lazarus. At the bottom of the steps, there is an ante-chamber and again one has to crawl through another hole in the floor to reach the actual burial site. Physically, there is nothing of note here. It’s just a plain stone room. The power is the emotional, theological, spiritual story of what took place in this room.
Heeding the advice above of Father James Martin, SJ, I brought to mind the painful loss of my friendship and my heartache. The sadness was getting in the way of my relationship with God. So I tossed the sadness into one of the corners. Climbing out of there, with me, was my friend, Jesus.
Sound emotional health must include good friendships. For with our friends we play, laugh and have fun. There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus, Lazarus, Martha and Mary found time to laugh and have fun. Friends share our innermost thoughts. Friends accompany us, especially when we are in pain, sometimes in silence, for you don’t have to speak words when you are with friends. Scripture doesn’t place Lazarus at the crucifixion, but he had to have been there. Jesus was his friend and he was suffering. Lazarus would have been there, in silence, to accompany Jesus.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta most likely would have said, “Make friends. Friends are a lifeline to happiness. Sometimes friends will disappoint. Sometimes friends will break your heart. Make friends anyway.”
Rod J. Herrera is director, Office of Child & Youth Protection, Diocese of Camden.