When I was a little boy my Dad used to love to watch old cowboy movies on Saturday afternoons on the TV. He called them “dusties” because there were always clouds of dust. And the highly dramatic climax of these movies usually consisted in a wagon train full of brave settlers under attack from enormous hoards of hostile Indians. And just when it seemed the settlers’ ammunition was about to run out and they would all be overrun and massacred, off in the distance you could hear a bugle, dutta da data…. And just in the nick of time the wagon train and its occupants were saved by the arrival of the cavalry.
And ever since then, up to this very day, the brave hero and heroine are still being saved just in the nick of time, be it Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, or Thor or any action movie you can name.
The reason we love to see rescue and salvation coming just in the nick of time is it has great dramatic power, and because that is the way we want life to be.
But our Gospel today is so different, because Jesus shows up too late.
The sisters of Lazarus send word to Jesus. “The one you love is sick.” The implication is clear. Come quick! But what does Jesus do? Jump on his horse and ride to the rescue? No! He plays a few games of solitaire on the computer, has another cup of coffee, chats about the prospects for the Jerusalem sports teams with the Apostles, does a little fishing. In short, Jesus dilly dallies for two whole days.
Finally, he goes. And poor Lazarus is no longer sick. He is not only dead, He is in the tomb four days and beginning to decompose. It is way too late. Lazarus stinks.
You see that in the reaction of the people when Jesus arrives. The Jews say: “He opened the eyes of the blind man. Why could he not have done something to stop this man from dying?”
The first words out the mouths of the sisters are the same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, (if you had come when we called you) my brother would never have died.” Independently they both reproach Jesus for being so tardy. Why didn’t you come when we called you?
I can identify with that. I have said that. “Lord, why didn’t you come when I called you, when I really needed you?” Haven’t we all done that?
Haven’t we all said, at least to our selves: “Lord, if you had been here, I would have thought twice before making such a stupid comment; my marriage would not have failed; I would not have made a mess of this relationship; I would not have been stuck in this dead end job; my child would not have become a drug addict or an alcoholic; my spouse, my parent, my child, my loved one would not have died; Whatever. Lord, if only you had come before it was too late.
Jesus shows up when it is way too late: Lazarus is dead, in the tomb four days already, and stinking.
Only for God it is never too late. God has possibilities we cannot imagine; options we can’t conceive of. When all is lost, when everything has been tried and failed, and the situation is hopeless - from the human point of view - God is just getting started.
Isn’t that what we are preparing to celebrate at Easter? That when all is lost, when Good Friday brutally occurs, when Jesus has been condemned, whipped, beaten, crucified, put in the tomb and then it is sealed with a huge stone, when it is all over and done and beyond any human possibility of being saved, God’s possibilities are still limitless. Only God can pull off Easter.
Jesus in the Gospel today tells us: “I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die.”
Jesus offers us the fullness of life, complete life, eternal life: in other words, all we yearn and long for, the deepest desires of our souls: full life and complete union with God. That is the Gospel, the Good News!
No matter what failures, heartbreaks, divorces, bankruptcies, illnesses, shattered dreams, grievous sins and bitter disappointments occur in our lives, we still have before us the hope of full, complete, eternal life. For God it is never too late. For God it is never too late.
“Did I not assure you” Jesus tells us, “that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”