Fifth Sunday in Lent
What a difference a week makes, the whole world touched by a virus that threatens the lives of so many. I'm making no apologies for beginning on a somber note, this passage about the story of Lazarus in John's Gospel is one which at some time in the coming weeks and months every single one of us will feel, the weeping and loss are going to hit us as colleagues, friends and family succumb to the progress of Covid 19.
Here is Jesus talking to Mary of Bethany after her brother's death, in this passage we are both Mary and Jesus, we can empathize with both, so let us start our journey here with them: "When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see." And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him."(Jn 11:33-36)
The problem of a time like this is our unpreparedness, we just didn't think anything like this pandemic could happen, unfortunately those us who enjoy films with happy endings might now see that already for some there has been no initial happy ending, only wracked bodies struggling to catch a breath, and weeping nursing staff who can only helplessly look on as they die. It is not a picture I can forget! So this is the part where Jesus in helpless perturbation and Mary in her grief stand with all of us, looking on, lost, our anchors drifting.
Pope Francis in what will be for many one of the most profound spiritual meditations of his ministry, shared words with us all before prayer and the Urbi et Orbi to the world from a deserted St Peter's Square on the 27th March 2020, I quote him:
"In the midst of this isolation that makes us suffer the limitation of affections and encounters and experience the lack of so many things, let us listen once again to the announcement that saves us: He is risen and lives beside us. From his cross, the Lord challenges us to find the life that awaits us, to look at those who claim us, to reinforce, recognize and encourage the grace that lives in us."
In the many small shocks we shall encounter at this time, in the silent weepings of tears we will all have to shed, those words are doubly true; we are being called to a real renewal of faith and trust in the common bond that unites us and all living creatures, that this small earthly home, our dwelling place until we leave it is both symbol of a mother and a family. The risen Lord is not absent, but he does share our grief, with Martha and Mary he shares the pain of love and loss, but as we see he does something to show us that death, sickness, pain is not the end, that in him and only in him the waters of life flow from an unquenchable source.
We share in this because we are truly his sisters and brothers together!
Is that any consolation? Yes because that is what is at the heart of Lazarus being called from death, to show us that Christ the risen one will overcome all these obstacles with us. The responsorial psalm ( Ps 130) today is one we know well from recitation of it at a death or memorial, it picks up this theme of profound anxiety, we begin it with those solemn words:"Out of the depths O Lord, I cry" but , and here we catch a glimpse of hope, it ends with these very powerful words: "For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities."
All along the Lord is there. By still waters and on the sea in tempests, amongst the crowds in the city and alone in the wilderness, he is always there. Suddenly we hear him again as weeping he turns and says at the tomb: "I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me."And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice,* 'Lazarus, come out!' 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."(Jn 11:42-44)
Comfort each other with those words, the Lord hears us, and as he does to Lazarus, calls each one of us by name, calls us out to be unbound from the things that hold us back in our faith lives, so, let us go to Him! Amen
PS And please do pray for me as I celebrate my 41st anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood on March 31st!
(King James version because this is the way many will remember it)
Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.
Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
From the Homily of Pope Francis
Urbi et Orbi Friday March 27th 2020
Embracing your cross means finding the courage to embrace all the setbacks of the present time, abandoning for a moment our longing for omnipotence and possession, to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of stirring up. It means finding the courage to open spaces where everyone can feel called and allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. At his cross, we were saved to welcome hope and let it be the one to strengthen and sustain all measures and roads that can help us to safeguard ourselves and to safeguard. Embrace the Lord, to embrace hope. Here is the strength of faith, which frees you from fear and gives you hope.
'Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith yet?' Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that testifies to Peter's rock faith, I would like this afternoon to entrust you all to the Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady, the health of her people, starfish in storm. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the world descends upon you, as a consoling embrace, the blessing of God. Lord, bless the world, give health to bodies and comfort to hearts! You ask us not to be afraid; our faith, however, is weak and we are afraid. But You, Lord, do not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Continue to repeat to us: 'Do not be afraid!' (Mt14, 27). And we, together with Peter, 'entrust all our concerns to You, because You have taken care of us' (cf. 1 Pet 5, 7).
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. During this time Fr Robin will be putting prayers and thoughts up on his twitter feed. You can follow him @RobinGibbons2
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