Throughout most of 2022 under a director from the Jesuit retreat house at St Beuno’s in Wales I meditated and prayed my way through the complete Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola. This is the verbatim entry for the day in which I meditated on the raising of Lazarus, which is also the Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday in Lent.
WEEK 22, DAY 3 – Read John 11: 1–44 (Jesus raises Lazarus from the tomb).
Notice Jesus’ humanity in how he responds to the death of his dear friend and his divinity in raising him from the dead.
With the full moon yesterday evening, the Hunter’s Moon, we entered winter according to an Anglo-Saxon calendar reported by St. Bede.
I look out of the window this morning at a pure, shining, silvery blue cloudless sky. ‘We did not make ourselves. He made us’ (Augustine). And yet it is not difficult to imagine this radiant mirror over all as a vast expanse of love. Love which shines indiscriminately and nonjudgmentally on all alike, virtuous, wicked and those of us too who are perhaps a bit mixed.
This morning missiles rained down indiscriminately and nonjudgmentally on all alike in Kyiv, in Lviv, in so many other places in Ukraine that only a few short months ago we had scarcely heard of and normally didn’t think about. Unless we were Ukrainian of course – or Russian.
But they did not rain down from the pure and radiant sky. They rained down from twisted minds, minds willing to sacrifice children to Moloch, ‘a hateful thing’.
“‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay’ says the Lord.”
What vengeance, Lord?
‘The vengeance of my indiscriminate and nonjudgemental love.’
I feel my throat tightening again.
For who will be able to bear that Dies Irae – the Day of the Lord’s Wrath?
Later: Where are You, Lord? I sit in mindful peace.
But where are You?
Suddenly I remember again that image, the analogy, of the silvery blue cloudless sky.
“I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black...”
And You remind me, Lord –
“They buried my body
And they thought I’d gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.” (Sidney Carter)
You are the Dance and death cannot stop You, can it, Lord? Today we look at Your raising of Lazarus from the dead. But what a strange story it is!
Dear Lord, I don’t want to neutralise the shock of this story by [in Ignatian fashion] visualising myself there when Lazarus emerges from the tomb. At least, not in any straightforward way. Forgive me, Lord – I don’t want to try to pretend I am present when You bring a dead man back to life. For when people die, really die, in our day to day life we do not see them coming back to life. Where are You, Lord, in our grief, a deep grief You shared with Martha and Mary as well as sharing with us? Where are You for us when our closest family and friends die, Lord?
For, Lord, what strikes me in this account is certainly grief. But I notice also incomprehension – perhaps even anger. The sisters told You Lazarus was ill, Lord. They trusted You. But You didn’t turn up. I want to dwell there in Your incomprehensible absence, Lord.
I imagine their complete despair when Lazarus died, but compounded also with their devastated fury that You hadn’t even bothered to get there in time. Nothing! Were You afraid, Lord? Had You finally abandoned them, afraid of Jewish attempts to murder You? Had You finally shown that all their hopes were in vain and You were no different from all the rest?
What friendship is it that cures lepers yet abandons those who had shared their house, their food, and their expensive ointment and tears with You?
Where are You, Lord, when death strikes our homes?
Mary, who hung on Your every word, Mary who wept as she anointed Your feet – Mary, Lord, would not come out to greet You. In her grief and her anger she couldn’t. She still trusted that if You had been there, You could have saved her brother. But You chose not to.
Martha, ever the confrontational one, greeted You on the road, rushing out, blurting out:
John 11: 21-22 NIV
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Yet when she saw You, looked into Your deep brown eyes that were heavy with compassion but also with weariness and grief, she could sense too that whatever all this was about, You had not abandoned them. Softly, almost shyly, looking down at the ground she adds:
 “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Martha, Martha – speaks softly to Mary. She knows Mary is dreading meeting with Jesus, the Master who had not been there when she most expected and needed Him. Mary dreads hearing the call that Jesus
has arrived, wants to see her. Mary is afraid, afraid of what she might say, afraid of what she could do. She doesn’t want to see Him.
Oh, but she runs to him and falls at his feet, the feet she had anointed with precious perfume. Mary beats them in fury, scratching with her nails, gouging, drawing flecks of blood, wetting them with her tears of grief and disappointment, gasping between her shrieking sobs:
John 11: 32 NIV
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
If You had come Lazarus would still have been alive. But he is dead. End of the matter. End of it all.
Everyone is in tears. You too, Lord. But why were You crying, Lord? You knew what You were going to do. You knew with complete certainty what was going to happen.
You wept at the sight of our grief, didn’t You. You wept with us, at the suffering we feel when touched by death. You grieved for our grief.
(I find that thought, that love of Yours very touching, dear Lord.)
I notice too, Lord, that several times You sighed when confronted by these scenes. Why, Lord? Were You weary? Weary of our confusion, weary of our misery – weary of us?
But no – never weary of us! For You knew You had come out of love for us.
John 11: 25-26 NIV
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die… ”
John 11: 40-42 NIV
“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God ?… Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me .”
Lazarus. We know what happened. I have known it since childhood, long before my parents died. But, Lord… we do not see these things. We believe it, but we still do not see our dear dead with us, gloriously alive and returned to us as You promised.
I could visualise being there with You, Lord, and Martha, and Mary, with Lazarus hobbling out of the cave tomb sticky with ungents and his wrappings flapping.
Visualise, yes. But, Lord – I cannot believe I am seeing it. Of course I can believe it, but I cannot believe my visualisation of it. It is, as they say, beyond my ken.
I could visualise it, but if I did I would sense not the joy but the horror of seeing a dead man walking. The horror. The uncanny.
But the grief and the fury at death, at You, and Your weary pain at the suffering we all experience in our fallen human condition, the anguish of the death of those in whom we invest our whole emotional lives – that I can visualise, dear Lord. Oh yes, I can visualise that alright.
That I know.
And, Lord – by Your grace I see that now You do too!
Paul Williams (Bristol)