Unbind him, let him go free
Today we enter Passiontide. The grave and dramatic character of this period is marked by the veiling of the crosses, the statues and images in the church. These external signs show we are now entering into a very special time of the liturgical year when we really start to meditate on Our Lord’s sufferings and bring the redemption to the forefront of our minds.
This Sunday’s Gospel (John 11:1-45), the miracle of the raising of Lazarus is the last of seven miracles recorded by John. The first is the fairly small scale changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), and they gradually build up to this stupendous miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, by which Our Lord shows His absolute power over death. Lazarus, of course, was to die again, and when he came out of the tomb he was still wrapped in his burial clothes. But not long after when Our Lord Himself rose from the tomb, He didn’t come forth in burial clothes. He had left them neatly wrapped up inside. After Lazarus’ resurrection, we are told many came to believe in JESUS. One of the great ironies of this miracle is that while many came to believe in JESUS because He brought Lazarus back to life, the Pharisees, because of this miracle, resolved and plotted that Our Lord must die. And in John’s Gospel, this is the actual point where the decision is made that He must be put to death. Of course, Our Lord knew this would happen, and He knew that by bringing Lazarus out from the tomb, He Himself would be entering it. And this Lazarus event which lasted three days, is a foreshadowing of Our Lord’s own three days in the tomb. Lazarus was buried in a new tomb. So was JESUS. Both had huge stones rolled in front of them. These parallels are no coincidence.
Once Lazarus had come out of the tomb clad in his burial robes, JESUS gave the order, “Unbind him, let him go free.” It is fascinating to note that St Augustine saw the raising of Lazarus as a symbol of the Sacrament of Penance or Confession. Just as the burial clothes bound Lazarus, sin binds human beings. Just as Our Lord told the people to unbind the burial cloths from Lazarus as he came out of the tomb, so through His priests, JESUS unbinds sinners from the chains of sin, from spiritual death in the Sacrament of Penance. We are all Lazarus and were dead in our sin, but through the Sacrament of Baptism we have been raised to new life. Yet the effects of sin can still bind and enslave us. For this reason Our Lord instituted the Sacrament of Penance for the forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism. If He instituted it, He must want us to use it.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC