RSS Feed

Lent 5



As the days get longer and the signs of growth in nature become more obvious, we can begin to feel that winter is losing its grip on us. The weather may still be cold, but, somehow, we sense that the worst is over. The signs of new life in nature are the promise of more to come. Nature’s waking from its slumber will mean more work for some. The growing grass will soon need its first cut. The weeds will need to be sorted, Gower and veg beds prepared. And many people are longing for the new life we associate with spring and summer. As nature starts to come alive again, many people also feel more alive at this time of the year, a welcome antidote to SAD which many suffer in the depths of winter. The longer evenings call us out, and we find ourselves doing more than we have done for months.

Yet, not everyone will be feeling more alive in these early days of spring. Those who have been recently bereaved will be feeling drained. They may feel that a part of them has died, and that in a real sense they are less alive now. Others among us may be feeling drained of life for a host of other reasons. Some may be struggling with some kind of illness; others trying to cope with an experience of rejection or disappointment; some may be struggling to come to terms with a whole host of things; others may be overworked and overtired. For a myriad of reasons, as individuals, as families, as communities, we can be feeling less alive than we want to be and have the potential of being.

In today’s gospel, a family struggling with the serious illness of one of their members sent to Jesus, their friend, for help. ‘He whom you love is ill’, was the message from this distraught family. By the time Jesus arrived, this struggle with serious illness had given way to the more life-draining struggle with death. The message to Jesus now was, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died’. We can sense in that statement the family’s grief, disappointment, and, perhaps, anger. Yet, Jesus entered fully into that family’s deep grief, he even cried with them (as he does with us) and went on to call Lazarus out of his tomb, to bring him from death to life, and to bring his family from darkness to light. In doing so, he revealed himself as the resurrection and the life.

When I hear this Gospel I am always reminded of the time when I was having supper with Bishop Nathan in Uganda who took a phone call, after which he told me that he’d been speaking to Lazarus. He explained that is what the called him because 10 years earlier the man was thought to be dead. They were carrying the coffin to the place of burial when he knocked the coffin lid. Coffins there have windows and they looked in to see him alive - awake. The coffin bearers dropped the coffin and ran away leaving a traumatised priest wondering what to do. But this year it is more poignant. Just a few weeks ago I was privileged to visit the site of Lazarus’s tomb with other pilgrims on the Diocesan pilgrimage, the place where Jesus revealed himself as the resurrection and the life.

So when Jesus said to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, he immediately went on to ask her, ‘Do you believe this?’ St John intends the readers of his gospel to hear this question being asked of them - of us. We are asked to believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life for us, and that he has the power to call us out of our tombs, to lead us from death to life. Those words of Jesus have given many hope in the face of the death of loved ones. We trust that our loved ones will live beyond death; we believe that we ourselves, in virtue of our relationship with Jesus, already live with a life that physical death will not lessen or even destroy.

Yet, we also believe that the Lord who calls us out of the tomb of physical death is also calling us out of other tombs we may have built for ourselves. In the first reading God tells Ezekiel ‘Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.” The grave or the tomb in question was the tomb of exile in a foreign land. Things that we do can entomb us, and drain us of life. The choices we make as individuals can damage and diminish us, both physically and spiritually. We are more aware today than ever before that various institutions can also entomb us, by acting in ways that don’t respect our dignity as people made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus came that we may have life and have it in all its fullness. He is constantly calling us out of our various tombs, out of those situations that lessen us and that deprive us of what St. Paul calls the glorious liberty of the children of God.

In calling people out of their tombs, the Lord looks to us to help him in this work. When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, he first called on people to ‘Take the stone away’. Having called Lazarus out of his tomb, he then told others to ‘Unbind him, let him go free’. Jesus involved others in his life-giving work. He looks to us today to be channels of his life-giving presence to others. Today’s gospel challenges us to be life-givers in a world where the taking of life has become far too common. So as we reflect on this gospel, let us ask ourselves, what the Lord’s words could mean for each of us. What stones can we take away? Who are we going to unbind to let them go free? May God give us grace that we may do his will.

Page last updated: Friday 17th March 2023 2:33 PM
Powered by Church Edit