5TH SUNDAY OF LENT: ARISING FROM DEATH

death-covid19 Italy

We remain in lockdown for the past two weeks or so. Churches are closed but this does not prevent us to remain in communion and spread the Word of God especially every Sunday.

In the gospel of today’s 5th Sunday of Lent, Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, was very seriously ill. The siblings are one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples. Martha knew that Jesus could heal sick people. So when her brother got sick and she knew that Jesus was nearby, she turned to him for help. Then she waited three desperate and increasingly miserable days. During those days Jesus didn’t come, and Lazarus died.

Perhaps Martha and Mary was asking: “You love us and you loved him; why did you not come and cure him while he was still alive?”

I think many of us is asking God the same question right now in the midst of this tragic pandemic. So many are ill and are dying everyday. Why would God not heal all those people who are ill because of covid-19? Why would God not stopped this virus so there would be no longer thousands of people dying?

We can extend this question to all kinds of illness and suffering in our world today. Why would God not do anything about those who are seriously ill with cancer, heart diseases and other major illness? Why are so many people suffering and dying and God seemed to not to care.  Remember, Jesus himself who is God, expressed the same cry, out of his humanity from the cross: “God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

But upon arriving at the cave where Lazarus was buried, Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” God loves us so much especially those who are ill and dying just as he loved Lazarus. Indeed, in the same way, God is crying right now at the tragic state of our world.

The death of Lazarus ultimately led Jesus to show God’s power and glory as he told Martha,

“Your brother will rise.”

“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

He raised Lazarus to new life. He freed Lazarus from death.

The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”

The strongest message of the gospel story today is that life is more powerful than death. Through God’s power, we will passed over from death into new life. In the end God will ultimately raise us into life and destroy death so we can live eternally with God.

The passing over from death into new life is also articulated in our first reading today. In the book of the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord GOD says,

O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them

We need to read the whole chapter (Ezekiel 37) to understand the passage entirely. Ezekiel is shown a valley full of bones and is commanded to prophesy to the bones:

“See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life. I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put spirit in you so that you may come to life and know that I am the Lord.”

The prophet does as he is told, and the bones are reconstructed into skeletons, enfleshed, and revived,

“they came alive and stood upright, a vast army. Then he said to me: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They have been saying, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.’”

It is at that point that today’s First Reading begins, with its promise to return the people to their homeland.

This pandemic has sort of put us into a tomb. Compelled into a lockdown and self quarantine, it was hard to stop our age old routines, lifestyles and habits. On the other hand, it has led us to take a hard look at our own lifestyles and attitudes as well as the dominant socio-economic system that sustained our lifestyles and attitudes. It is in this spirit of self-critique that Pope Francis expressed some of his thoughts in a special Urbi et Orbi blessing at the Vatican. Standing in a deserted St. Peter’s Square with a steady rain falling, Pope Francis spoke to the world through all the means of modern communication: Facebook, YouTube, TV, and radio,

“Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.”

The biggest challenge of this pandemic is how to arise from death and come out of our tombs. After the pandemic, the world will never be the same again. After this pandemic, we cannot go back to the life we had before the pandemic. We cannot just pretend that nothing happened and go back to our previous routines, lifestyles and habits.  We will need new lifestyles, new ways and new attitudes to avoid another pandemic which is not improbable if we do not learn the lessons this pandemic has taught us. We will need a new socio-economic system that will nourish and sustain not just the health of human beings but of wildlife and mother nature.

If we return to the gospel of Jesus and live out its values, Jesus will lead us out of this pandemic into new life. It we allow the gospel of Jesus to transform us in this pandemic, we might be like bones now in the valley of death but God will breath new life upon us and put on a new flesh and blood into our bones.

Lord Jesus open up our graves. Breathe your Holy Spirit into our dry bones so that we can rise into new life.