Fifth Sunday of Lent Reflection I HAVE COME THAT YOU MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT TO THE FULL” (JN 10:10)3
In these days of “social distancing” and isolation while we continue working together as a global family to curb the spread of this pandemic, it feels odd to have this gospel already on the fifth Sunday of Lent, and especially while we are made anxious by the COVID-19 emergency.
The recurring narrative of our time has been one of death. The headlines stream daily updates of statistics on infection counts and numbers of those who have succumbed to the illness. Tragic realities have been reported from every corner of the world. These certainly feel like Lenten days. If I do not stay close to Jesus, I can easily find myself getting overwhelmed by it all and burying myself in a tomb of fear.
Can we try to put ourselves in the place of Lazarus? Lying cold in the tomb, we are dead to everything and then we hear a voice: ‘Come out, my children.’ There we are, swathed in bandages, surrounded by darkness. What is our equivalent to his tomb, here and now? (This pandemic has put us into the tomb of fear). Putting ourselves in Lazarus’s place can show up imperfections in our lifestyle and make us long for a new spiritual freedom. This story features here in Lent to help us live life to the full. A close encounter with death can shock us into appreciating life. A loss or bereavement shows again what makes life worth living. Perhaps even the oppressive nearness of COVID-19 may make us re-assess our priorities and renew our trust in God’s divine providence.
Jesus was a close friend to the two sisters and their brother. They always made him welcome in their home in Bethany, whenever he passed by on his way to Jerusalem. One day the sisters notified him, “Our brother Lazarus, your friend, is sick”. By the time Jesus got there, his friend Lazarus was already dead. When the younger sister, Mary, saw Jesus she cried out in grief. When Jesus saw her terrible sorrow, he was deeply moved and broke down in tears so that people remarked: “See how much he loved him!” He did not just cry for the death of a close friend. He shared in the anguish of everyone in the face of death.
In this Gospel, the tomb is right where God meets us. Like many of our brothers and sisters across the world right now, Jesus received news that his good friend Lazarus had fallen ill. Upon arriving in Bethany, Jesus met by Lazarus’ sisters who both have said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” In our current reality of this pandemic, we might be saying the same thing to God. Our sadness and our anger are real. The Psalmist puts words to how we might be feeling: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” (PS 130:1)
God’s response to our cry is provided today by the prophet Ezekiel: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” (EZ 37:12) Jesus steps forward to the tomb of his friend with three powerful commands: “Take away the stone.” “Lazarus, come out!” “Untie him and let him go.”
Jesus calls us out of dark, death-dealing tombs and into the healing, holy light of his love. It might be hard to hear the voice of Jesus in these fearful times over the voices of dark spirits that tempt us to panic and isolate and keep the tomb’s stone right where it is. Pope Francis in a recent interview provides a simple way to step into the light:
“We must rediscover the concreteness of little things, small gestures of attention we can offer those close to us, our family, our friends...We must understand that in small things lies our treasure. These gestures of tenderness, affection, compassion are minimal and tend to be lost in the anonymity of everyday life, but they are nonetheless decisive, important.”
With isolation, physical and social distancing measures now in place, my hope is that we can come up and out of these dark, cold, hard graves of fear through “small gestures” that keep us connected to each other amidst our physical- social distance.
In this crisis, one of the great actions to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by this Covid-19 virus, let that virus find us doing sensible and human things—praying together in the family, working and teaching values to our children, neighbors, friends, reading, listening soul and heart soothing music, bathing the children, playing, phone and video chatting with our friends over many things in life, and not huddled together like frightened sheep, worrying and thinking without hope and faith in God about this deadly virus. The COVID-19 Virus may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they may need not dominate our minds. Let what dominates our minds and hearts be the firm commitment God has made to us: I will put my spirit in you that you may live...I have promised, and I will do it.” (EZ 37:14)
Finally, we pray for all of our parish family as we deal with this health crisis and for Sunday: The health of Tom Moore and his intentions Monday: The intentions of Laura Lane Tuesday: Healing for Dave Brown Wednesday: The quick recovery and healing of all those who are currently sick Thursday: The repose of the soul of Greg Jacobsen Friday: The repose of the souls of Ben and Amy Baker Saturday: Healing for Dave Brown
Remember that God is our strength and refuge in all things.