5th Sunday of Lent, Saturday 28th of March, 2020, Ennis Cathedral, Via Webcam
The Gospel today goes one better than last Sunday, with the curing of a man born blind, to the raising of a man from the dead! The story of the raising of Lazarus, then in turn is a prelude to and prepares us for the Resurrection of Jesus Himself, an event that has changed human history and our world. We dare with great longing to look over the mountain towards the resurrection at this tough time from the depths of the valley we inhabit at present.
Moreover, the raising of Lazarus is a beautiful example of how God works in our lives to free us. We are called to allow the Lord to work in our lives transforming us, so that we become whom He has called us to be.
Invitation to come out of what ties us!
I recall the words of the song “don’t fence me in”. In the Gospel today Jesus invites us to be free from what can literally fence us in! When Jesus had finished praying he said, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus says to each of us, “Come out of your prisons.” When Lazarus came out of the tomb, Jesus then said, “Unbind him, let him go free.” Jesus also says to each of us, “Go free”, “Leave down your burdens and walk on”. God wants us to be free. “Don’t fence me in”!
I remember as a little child the words of a song my Dad used to sing with the words “Take these chains from my heart and set me free”. That is what Jesus did to Lazarus in unchaining him from the bandages of death and decay and raising him from the dead to new life!
Jesus involves the Community
It is interesting to note that Jesus involves the community. He called Lazarus out of the tomb but Jesus himself did not unbind him, others unbound Lazarus. Instead of doing it Himself, he asks the men to take away the heavy tombstone.
We have all built up spiritual walls around ourselves, walls of denial, blame, fear, doubt and coping mechanisms. Jesus uses the community to remove the blockages. Then Lazarus was alive, and out of the tomb, all bound up, hobbling, and so Jesus involves the community again, asking them to “Unbind him, let him go free.”
At a time of crisis like we are now living through, we realize even in our forced isolation or “cocoonment”, observing social spacing that we are so dependent on each other as community. We lean heavily on the help of others to keep us going at such times, all be it from a safe distance, but nevertheless essential for us to survive.
Jesus – help of the afflicted
Today’s gospel is inviting us to see ourselves in Lazarus, whose name, a shortened form of Eleazar, means “God helps.”
He is from a town called Bethany which means “House of Affliction.”
So God helps those who suffer from affliction. We so need to hear this message and let it drop from our heads to our hearts during these challenging days.
Friendship – the Human Jesus
Lazarus is the “one Jesus loves“; he represents all those whom Jesus loves, all of us here today. There is a great insight into the beautiful humanity of Jesus today with his interest and value placed on friendship, that of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
This story, however, more importantly, is the story of our coming to life from death in this present moment, not just in the future. Jesus is constantly calling us to new life in Him; to leave down our burdens and anything that binds or imprisons us.
It occurs to me that we are all Lazarus’s in some ways, we have been called into life by Jesus, and yet so often we still live in burial clothes. The burial cloth is a symbol of our burdens that still cling to us, trying to pull us back into our tombs.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the great writer and Christian, was implicated in a plot to assassinate the Tsar of Russia. He was not one of the plotters but was on the fringes of a group that wanted to overthrow the established order. The plot was un-covered and he was arrested and tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. He lodged an appeal even though the chances of getting a reprieve were non-existent. In the mean-time he was sent to a prison camp in Siberia where he experienced some of the harshest conditions known to man. His appeal was turned down and he was given a date for execution. The day came round and he was about to be shot. But at the very last moment a messenger arrived with word from St Petersburg, his sentence was commuted to four years penal servitude. Dostoyevsky experienced a resurrection. He was waiting for death and then he was alive. And although he had to endure very harsh conditions he saw everything in a new way. He was able to live life to the full.
Lazarus is us, where ever we are today, whatever form of social isolation we are in, whatever cocoons we might be in, bound up in the old ways of our current lives, called to life by Jesus who is the Light and the Life of the world. Jesus stands at the edge of our tomb, shouting “Come out!”
We are to substitute our own name for that of Lazarus, hear his command, and walk into the light of day, pulling free of all that imprisons us and burdens us.
Message of the Gospel
The message from today’s Gospel is that we are people of resurrection and hope, called to live compassionately and to bring others back into the community. To place our hope in Jesus who gives us resurrection and eternal life. Death is no longer the end of our human story because Jesus has come to change all of that. Life in Christ through baptism means life with him forever
The words of Seamus Heaney have been much quoted in the past two weeks: If we winter this one out, we can Summer anywhere…. Like Lazarus, if we allow the bandages of fear and anticipation of what might or could happen to be undone, the dark Winter can give way to the brightness of a better Summer to come.
God of consolation and compassion, your Son comforted the grieving sisters, Martha and Mary; your breath alone brings life to dry bones and weary souls. Pour out your Spirit upon us today, that we may strengthen our faith in Jesus, who called Lazarus forth from the grave.
I don’t intend it to happen.
before I know it, there’s been a kind of death,
part of me wrapped in a shroud and buried in a tomb
while the rest of me stands by
wondering why the light has gone out.
Then you, Jesus, all knowing,
seek me out and knock at the edge of my heart,
calling me to come forth.
I argue that I can’t.
I’m too far gone for miracles.
But you keep on calling, “Come Out! Come Out!”
and the darkness is pierced
by a shaft of light as the stone begins to move.
Jesus, I don’t know how you do it
but this living tomb has become
as bright as day and life has returned.
Look at me! I’m running out,
dropping old bandages all over the place.