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Lent 5 and Fifth Week of Lent

with Elsa Tesfay

Director, Finance, Administration and Operations, PWRDF

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John 11: 1-45 – The Resurrection of Lazarus

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

I was still in my teens when I fled to escape jail, torture and possibly death at the hands of the brutal dictatorship that was ruling my birth country at that time. I fled not knowing whether I would ever see my friends and family again. I sought refuge in a neighbouring country. I was among the lucky ones that lived to see another day. I had to grow up fast. I had survived. And for the first couple of years after I fled my country life was just that—survival. Even after life got better, the fear of being forced to return home was a constant worry. I suffered from nightmares where I dreamt I was back home and was trying to escape the police and military. Thank God, although the nightmares lasted for decades, they’re gone now. But to this day I am still scared of the police and military.

As I read the story of Lazarus and reflect on what it says to me, I am reminded of my own refugee experience and that of other refugees I have met over the years through my life and through work with PWRDF. I have met hundreds of refugees living in and outside refugee camps in many countries; in Kenya, Egypt, Thailand, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Tanzania, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka. I remember the many Sri Lankan refugees in India that had returned home only to find themselves fleeing their home again, and returning to India again and again as refugees. I have met those that returned home but were still living in camps for the displaced awaiting a final return to their villages and towns. I remember the 18-year-old young man from Ethiopia that I met in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. He was born in the camp, and grew up in the camp. He only knew of life in the refugee camp. Like so many people all over the world, I have seared in my mind the image of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned while escaping Syria with his family, face down on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. I am astounded by the resilience of people that have lost so much.

And always, I ask myself why? Why was my family and I spared the fate of Alan Kurdi and so many like him and his family who were fleeing the death and destruction in their home countries, only to meet death again around the corner. Why did my family get a second chance, a new beginning when millions others are still stuck in refugee camps? Why was the “stone” rolled away for me and my family? I don’t know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that my personal refugee experience has changed me and I am a better person for it. I also know that it is by God’s grace and through the love and support of many (some whom we knew, others whom we don’t) that my family and I are where we are now.

When I reflect on the story of Lazarus, I think about how everyone that witnessed the miracle of Lazarus coming back from the dead must have been changed by the whole experience. I reflect on the opportunity that many had to play some role in the final outcome.

For many years I read the Lazarus passage as a straight forward story about a miracle, about hope and about faith, about physical death and about physical resurrection. Over the years, it has become more than that to me. I relate it to my own refugee experience and that of millions of others and read it also as a story of resurrection from other types of “deaths,” other losses. For me it is also about overcoming the loss of home and family, the loss of innocence. It is about how we each have a role to play, some small, some big, some direct, others indirect to change the narrative of oppression, destruction, loss, pain, hopelessness. It is about our contribution towards the PWRDF vision of a truly just, healthy and peaceful world.

In our actions, may we follow the example Jesus set in raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus demonstrated compassionate solidarity. He wept. He was not an aloof miracle worker rushing in to fix everything. He demonstrated that pain of Lazarus’ death was his pain too. He prayed to God. He knew that God would answer his prayers and that he alone had the power to bring back Lazarus from the dead. But he invited others in on the miracle. He could have just ordered the stone to roll away. But he did not. He told those there with him to take away the stone. When Lazarus walked out of the tomb, he told the people to unbind him and let him go. He demonstrated that the others have agency too in the things they are able to do.

May God give us the heart to hear his commandments and the strength and courage to take away the stones so those unable to move past whatever stones are blocking their way can step out into the light. May God give us the heart to hear his commandment, to unbind the strips of cloth that tie our hands and feet and the cloth that covers our face, stopping us from seeing what is happening around us and doing our part to live out the Gospel. May we have the courage and faith to take away the strips and cloth of unjust systems that bring about death and destruction for so many, and hinder survivors from regaining their agency and living life to the fullest.

March 30, 2020

Listen to the Gospel reading at the top of this page again.

What words, ideas or phrases stand out for you?

March 31, 2020

Listen to the Gospel reading at the top of this page again.

What is Jesus/the Gospel saying to you?

April 1, 2020

Listen to the Gospel reading at the top of this page again.

What is Jesus/the Gospel calling you to do?

April 2, 2020

PWRDF Connects

In her reflection, Elsa spoke about having agency and strength and resolve to “roll the stones away” in our lives. Josephine Kizza Alidekki exhibits this spirit. Read how she founded St. Jude Family Projects in Kampala, Uganda, with little more than a pair of piglets and a prayer.

April 3, 2020

PWRDF Connects

Mirsa Godoy knows about resolve. Born on the eve of the Civil War in Guatemala, she overcame challenge after challenge in her life. Read how she eventually came to work for Ixmucane, a long-partner of PWRDF that empowers women to lead. 

April 4, 2020

Your Saturday Sabbath

The row upon row of corn surrounding this small (growing?) family will soon provide a bounty. As every farmer knows, a crop is the result of perseverance and patience, a true act of faith. As we find our place in this new COVID-19 order, what perseverance, patience and acts of faith will you have? Illustration by Rini Templeton