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5th Sunday of Lent, Year A – Homily

A reminder that you can find a list of Masses online at
https://catholiccourier.com/articles/list-of-parishes-with-livestreams-available

5th Sunday of Lent, Year A
Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (7)
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45
March 29, 2020

Last week we hear the story of Jesus opening the eyes of the man born blind.  This is the sixth of seven signs in the Gospel of John that give testimony to who Jesus really is.  They show the power of God at work in him.

The signs have been building.  Today we hear the story of the seventh and final sign, the raising of Lazarus.

Martha and Mary ‘sent word to Jesus saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.”’  Lazarus is ill.  Jesus heals people.  One would naturally assume that Jesus would go immediately to Lazarus and heal him.  In fact, Jesus has healed others without even being in their presence.

Yet Jesus does not heal Lazarus.  Today we pray for God to bring an immediate end to the Coronavirus.  God has not ended the Coronavirus but that doesn’t mean God isn’t listening.  He is responding as He knows best.  I do not believe God caused the Coronavirus but I do believe He is with us in our hour of need.

So, what did Jesus do when He heard that Lazarus was ill?  His first words were, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.”  Remember last week when Jesus’ disciples asked who sinned, the man born blind or his parents.  Jesus said the man’s blindness was not because of sin but so that the glory of God would be made visible through him. 

Jesus’ words about Lazarus continue this.  Jesus does not immediately go and heal Lazarus.  In fact, He does not go for two days.  By time He departs to go to Lazarus, Lazarus is already dead.  Jesus knows this and tells his disciples, “Lazarus has died.  And I am glad for you that was not there, that you may believe.

Believe what?  Jesus has something incredible to do.  On his way He meets Martha.  Martha’s faith is strong as she says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  Martha has hope.  Mary will echo these words.

Jesus assures Martha that Lazarus will rise.  He says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” 

When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ tomb, He calls to Lazarus, “come out!” and Lazarus arises.  From this “many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.” 

So too do we believe in Jesus as “the resurrection and the life.”  But what does it mean to live?  What does it mean to die?

Here, I turn to our first reading from Ezekiel.  The Lord is speaking to those in Exile with Ezekiel in Babylon.  The Lord says, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them and bring you back to the land of Israel.”

Thus, the Lord speaks of resurrection, the resurrection that all who believe in Jesus will share in after earthly death.  These words in Ezekiel and Jesus’ words about resurrection are important.  They give us hope that earthly death is not the end.

To understand what it means to live and die, there is another level to the words the Lord offered through Ezekiel.  We should not take the word “rise” as simply a reference to the resurrection of the body at the end of time.  Remember, the Lord is speaking to Israelites in Exile.  To them, to be taken from their homes to a foreign land would be like death, death being separation from God.  For us, sin brings separation from God, this separation is spiritual death.

When the Lord uses the word “rise”, He is telling them that He will free them from Exile.  Here, I think of the prayer a priest says when anointing someone, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.  Amen.”

This prayer of anointing is not just for the dying but anyone facing a serious illness so “raise you up” is more than just speaking of the resurrection to come.  It speaks of how God will strengthen us in our time of suffering and lift us up. 

God’s words to the Israelites raise them up with hope.  The words for anointing assure one of God’s presence and raises us up in hope.  It gives new life that we may live.

What does it mean to live and die?  We are talking about something far greater than earthly death (that is followed by resurrection to eternal life.)

We are talking about life in the spirit. 

Right now, we might feel trapped by the Coronavirus but we are only trapped in our humanity.  We cannot gather together in church but God is with us, giving us true life.  We are called to abandon the flesh to live in the spirit.  However, when we speak of “flesh” in this sense, we are not speaking of physical flesh.  This sense of flesh speaks of giving into pleasures of the flesh, giving into sin.  Remember, sin is death.

But we are not simply “flesh.”  God offers us life through the spirit. 

Do you find yourself with more free time because of the Coronavirus?  Sometimes we think we are too busy to have time for God.  Here is your chance.  Use the free time to turn your heart to God, to put God first.

The Coronavirus is not the first pandemic the world has faced.  There was the 1918 flu.  Churches closed then but reopened.  There was the Black Plague.  There have been other illnesses.  God has always led his people through it.  God will lead us through this illness too.  There will be suffering.  Jesus knows what it is like to suffer. 

We trust in the Lord and live in the Spirit.

3 Comments

  1. Thomas House says:

    Fr Jeff, It is wonderful how you show us in today’s Gospel, during the Coronavirus isolation, and how God is with us even though we can’t be together in church, but we are in Gods eyes and through our prayers.

  2. Linda House says:

    My inbox is always filled with emails for which I have little concern. So it’s a real gift to get a blog update. Thank you for the recent entries. All give me something to think about. Also I have found your blog to be a “treasure trove” of reading. I encourage others to click on the various topics on left and read the associated blogs. Everyone has a clear, concise, meaningful message. Thanks Father Jeff and please keep them coming

  3. Joseph Guido says:

    Father Jeff, Thank you for this inspirational homily. Even though Donna and I are in Texas we still feel connected to St. Luke the Evangelist Parish. Please continue with your uplifting words that give people hope and direction. God Bless!

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