Gospel: 5th Sunday of Lent – Come Out of the Tomb
29 March 2020
Entering into the Fifth week of Lent, the liturgy prepares us for the coming celebration of Easter by focusing on the different truths about Jesus as the Living Water (3rd Lent), the Light of the world (4th Lent), and today as the Resurrection and the Life. And while I was reflecting on how to put all these revelations of Jesus together, one word stands out: hope.
In today’s Gospel reading from St John, John presents to us the human struggles in coping with sickness and the eventual death of a family member, a situation that we may find ourselves in occasionally. In this story, the close relationship that Jesus had with this family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus is reflected by the word, “love”. John tells us that Jesus had received a message from Martha and Mary saying, “the man you love is ill” with a further explanation that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”. The human emotions and feelings of love Jesus had for the family (reflecting his humanity) is further expressed at Bethany when it said that, “at the sight of her (Mary’s) tears and of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh from the heart, “where have you put him?”
Jesus loved this family of Bethany. Because of his closeness to this family, we see Martha and Mary asking a direct question of him whom they loved in return, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died?” – the same questions of “ifs” that we often ask God on many occasions, “why didn’t you answer my request/prayer? where were you? how come God doesn’t listen?” Or we may ask, “if Jesus really loves Martha, Mary and Lazarus, why doesn’t he go and help them immediately?” Mary and Martha’s “if” question concluded with a statement of finality “my brother would not have died” meaning to say “you have come too late to do anything”, “it’s no use now, we can do nothing, he is already dead!” In such a situation, what do we do?
We can either move on or stay where we are. To stay where we are is not the solution as we may remain comfortable in sorrow or in the darkness of our life and that will be physically and spiritually unhealthy. We need to move on, to move on with hope. In the Gospel story, we see Jesus offering hope to Martha when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?” and goes to fulfil this hope when he himself went to the tomb and raised Lazarus from the dead. Our God who loves us not only offers us hope but he comes to see that hope is there for us. Whatever darkness we are in, Christ opening the door of light is his gift for us. That doesn’t mean that everything will be fine, will be okay. No, that will be false hope. To live in hope is to move on, to fall and rise up again. Hope, as Pope Francis said, is not, “silence that accepts everything without reply, (nor) a certainty that makes you secure from doubts and perplexity but (HOPE) is being not afraid to see reality for what it is and to accept the contradictions” (Catechesis on hope, 28.12.2016). These reality and contradiction are clearly seen in Martha. She confessed her faith in Jesus that He is the Resurrection and the Life – that’s her reality of her faith – but yet when Jesus asked that Lazarus’ tomb be opened, she objected (contradicting herself) by saying, “by now he will smell, this is the fourth day”.
Our present reality today is that due to the Covid 19, we are now under the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia. The MCO will be lifted on 14th April but this doesn’t mean that the virus will be completely suppressed. It will still be there but we shall overcome it with the proper vaccine. Under the MCO, this also means that all Masses and church activities and programmes are suspended for the time being. Faced with the effect of this pandemic, our present spiritual yearning for the Mass, the Sacraments and our spiritual exercises and duties remind us and give us hope that “with God life never dies” (Pope Francis, Urbi et orbi message, 27.3.2020). The MCO will be lifted on 14th April and by then it will be Easter already. We look forward to it with faith and hope. When the MCO is lifted, we shall rejoice and come home again to our Church, to our community and society and offer them this hope that God indeed gives us life. This is our faith! This is our Easter faith – Jesus is indeed the Resurrection and the Life!
“We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved.
We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed.
We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced
so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.
In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.”
(Pope Francis, Urbi et orbi message, 27 March 2020).
Fr. Patrick Heng,
Blessed Sacrament Parish, BDC, Kuching.