Archbishop of Westminster

From Tears to New Life

Cardinal Vincent's Christmas reflection 2016.

Towards the end our pilgrimage to the Holy Land this year, we visited the village of Bethany and the site of the tomb of Lazarus. Deep underground, now beneath a mosque, we saw the cave which served as the tomb. Standing at its entrance we were at the spot where, at least according to tradition, Jesus cried aloud: 'Lazarus, come out!' 

Before we visited the tomb, we gathered in the church to hear the passage from St John's Gospel telling of this moment. Being in Bethany brought home to us the part played in the life of Jesus by the house of Martha, Mary and their brother, Lazarus. The four were bound together in the close and enduring love of friendship, a love which caused Jesus to burst into tears as he came to the tomb of his beloved Lazarus. The raising of Lazarus from the dead has to be seen in the context of this great loving friendship, although, as the Lord makes clear, it was also carried out to be a powerful witness to all who saw it happen and to all who have heard of it taking place. 

It remains an act of witness to the power of God over death and to the importance of the love of friendship.

Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land came to its close just as we were ending the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Perhaps this helps us to see the deeper beauty of this miracle. 

Mercy is the shape, the form, taken by love when it comes face to face with our weakness and need. God's mercy is the caress of God for us when we are profoundly in need. This miracle of the raising of Lazarus, seen in this light, is a wonderful act of mercy, for by it the love of God transforms grief into exaltation and death into life. 

Throughout this Year of Mercy, we have pondered and entered more deeply into the embrace of the mercy of God so that, in our turn, we may offer to others this same gift we ourselves have first received. Mercy can only flow from love, for mercy is the face of love. If there is no love in our hearts for those who are wretched, then we will find no mercy to extend to them. 

Death comes in many forms. It may be the death of hope; it may be the deadening effect of pain; or the life-sapping impact of a relentlessly demanding routine. Whatever the wretchedness we meet, whether in friend or stranger, if we can embrace the person with a Christian love and compassion, then the work of mercy will flow from our hearts. 

We are not able to stand at the side of a grave and declare 'Come out' as Jesus did. But we are able to lift the darkness of these smaller deaths through our own gift of practical mercy, especially at Christmas.

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