Mar 11, 2008

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A - Given at Cronulla and Kurnell on March 8 and 9, 2008.

Readings: Ez 37: 12-14; Rom 8: 8-11; Jn 11:1-45


In November 1982, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev died after ruling the Soviet Union USSR from 1964 until his death in ‘82. He was a man who believed wholeheartedly in the soviet ideology and he was perhaps one of the most anti-Christian leaders of his time. Historians have remarked about a silent protest which occurred at his State Funeral. Brezhnev’s widow Viktoria stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed in the communist Russia: she made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all made a gesture suggesting that her husband had been wrong. She hoped that there was another way of life--a life best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that this same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband and raise him up on the Day of the Judgment.  In today's gospel, Jesus’ assures us that anyone who lives in Christ and believes in Christ will never die.


Last Thursday a good friend of mine, and friend of many of the parishioners in this parish, was called to make his home with the Lord. John Russell was a longtime parishioner here at St Aloysius, he was involved heavily with the Catechetical programs, Scripture studies, and the list goes on. The readings the Church has given us for today are perfect for a sudden and recent death. All three of these readings are often read at funerals.


Our Lenten tour of St John's gospel is almost over. We can see the progression in themes from the thirst for living water (in the third Sunday of the Lent) to the desire to be healed of our spiritual blindness (IV Sunday) to our ultimate desire to share in eternal life with the risen Lord (V Sunday). Death and resurrection are the themes of today's readings. In his vision, Ezekiel witnesses the reanimation of the dead Israel in preparation for the return to the Promised Land. St. Paul assures us that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and who dwells within us will give life to our mortal bodies. In the context of Lent and coupled with the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the Church reminds us that we too will be raised into eternal life after our battle with sin and death comes to an end.


Today’s Gospel is one of the great Gospel passages. The event is the miraculous return to life of Lazarus, but the message is the glorification of God.

Throughout the Gospels, Christ uses events and circumstances to help spread his message of Good News.

Jesus was a personal friend of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Jesus received information about Lazarus’ sickness, but Jesus does not drop what he is doing and go to Lazarus immediately. Jesus waits. Waiting for the right time is important. Jesus says: “This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.”

Jesus glorification is the paschal mystery – Jesus’ death and resurrection. Every person’s death is not the end. Through Christ’s death and victory over death, eternal life is offered to all.


What Jesus did by raising Lazarus from the dead was basically to sentence himself to death. The Pharisees could put up with a prophet who healed, or even a Rabbi who preached forgiveness. But a person who could raise the dead was dangerous and had to be got rid off. Some Scriptural scholars argue that many of the High Priests and Jewish leaders may have received their positions through corrupt and illegal practices, even to the point of killing those who opposed them. So for a man to have an ability to raise people from the dead, people who were silenced, was a real and substantial threat.


In the Jewish tradition, it is believed that the soul separates from the body three days after death, and once a person has been dead 3 days, the soul goes to its final resting place.


Jesus arrives in Bethany on the 4th day – this is significant. The reaction of Martha and Mary plays into this understanding. Both Martha and Mary believed that Jesus could have restored Lazarus to physical life anytime in the 1st 3 days after death, but after 3 days, even they thought Jesus couldn’t help.


Jesus says to Martha that “Your brother will rise again,” but Martha only thinks that Jesus is talking about the resurrection on the last day.

Mary, who only a few chapters earlier sat and conversed with Jesus for hours on end while Martha work hard in the kitchen, Mary refuses to even leave the house to come to Jesus. Mary must have felt let down by Jesus. Mary didn’t think Jesus could help. Mary says “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”


And then we have the shortest verse in all of the Scriptures: “Jesus wept.” Jesus showed that he is not only God but is also a human being. Then Jesus calls for the stone to be rolled away and for Lazarus to come out of the tomb.

Martha, continuing in her disbelief, reminds Jesus that it is the fourth day. Martha is saying the Lazarus is no longer here.

But then Jesus called Lazarus and said: “Unbind him, let him go free.”


My friends, Jesus is showing us through the raising of Lazarus that he is truly God. Only God can put a soul within a person, and according to Jewish tradition, the soul had completely separated from the body of Lazarus.


Jesus is telling us that he is the resurrection and the life. Anyone who lives and believes in Jesus will never die. My friends, do we live with and in Christ? Is Christ the most important thing in our life?


Eternal life is what Christ is offering. Do we want to live or to die? The most important question for all us should be:  are we ready to face our deaths?  This is a strange question and its truthful answer is found in the sacred writings of the Hindus. “What is the greatest wonder in the world? The answer is:  all of us know that we will surely die, but each of us foolishly thinks that he or she will not die any time in the near future."  Let us not be foolish; even Lazarus eventually died, even after being raised. We all will die. Let us be wise and well prepared and ready to meet our Lord with a clear conscience when the time comes.  Let us daily conform ourselves to the ways of Christ and live in Christ, let us believe in Christ, and let us be resurrected and be granted entry into eternal life.


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