Fifth Sunday of Lent March 29, 2020

Fr. Rick Lorenz

Pope Francis sent this tweet today: "Profoundly moved and troubled, He weeps (Jn 11:35). We ask the Lord for the grace of weeping today before all the people who are suffering the consequences of this pandemic. May today be for everyone like a Sunday of tears."

I once heard of a dying man who waited in vain for his friend to arrive. He tried to hang on through his suffering; he trusted that his friend would come and say goodbye. Travel plans interfered. Other commitments were important too. Maybe his friend didn't know the dying man's need or realize the urgency of his case...but he arrived too late. The anguish of the widow greeted him: "Where were you? He waited and waited. He was so sure you would come."Disappointment, anger and guilt were joined to grief, leaving memory tinged by regret and tied up with shame.Perhaps these feelings are occurring throughout the Church: catechumens without scrutinies, the faithful locked out of churches, some dying without the sacraments. "He was so sure you would come."

And maybe some of those emotions wereat play in today's Gospel. Can you hear the reproach in the words of Martha, words repeated by Mary? "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." They had sent a message to Jesus: "Lord, he whom you love is ill."

But Jesus responded with faith, hope and certainty: "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." He knew the outcome-death and life, and made his travel plans accordingly: "he stayed two days longer in the place where he was."Only once he knew that Lazarus had died did he leave for Bethany. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die because he knew that his resuscitation would bolster the faith of the disciples."For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe."

But it cost him: the suffering of Lazarus, the grief of Martha and Mary -it cost him. He knew that Lazarus was dead through supernatural vision.Jesus heard this prayer within his soul; a psalm that echoesthrough the ages, and itmade him weep with Mary: "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!"Words of anguishbutmixed with anticipation: "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope."The word of hope bloomsfromthe love of God who wills us to live, so that Jesus could tell Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."

Did Martha believe? She did share her peoples' belief in the resurrection, so had hope for the last day. She also believed in Jesushimself: "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into this world."

But when he said to "take away the stone," she protested: "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."Like Martha, we have to choose to believe what Jesus tells us. Then we can see the glory of God, and this sight will allow us to believe more deeply. God gives us faith but we have to openour hands to accept it.

And so with eyes raised to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and said, "Lazarus, come out." He emerged from the tomb, restored to life.This prefigures the resurrection of Jesus at Easter, but with a key difference. Lazarus lived, but he would die again. The resurrection of Jesus is to eternal life in a glorified state that surpasses time and space. The Gospel notes details that reveal the difference. Compare it to the first reading, where God tells Ezekiel, "I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves." Thepeoplehad to roll back the stone from the tomb ofLazarus. But it was the power of the resurrection that opened the grave of Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus left his linen wrappings in the empty tomb for his followers to find on Easter morning, and for the Church to treasure in Turin and Oviedo; Italy and Spain. Lazarus emerged with his linens: hands and feet bound and face wrapped.Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."We need the power of Jesusto free us from our own bindings; his words to detach us from sinful attachments; his grace to deliver us from fear, regret andshame.Like it not, we will at some point share in the death of Lazarus. But we can choose to share in the resurrection of Jesus.

The first reading says, "I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live." The HolySpirit dwells in us by baptism, and will give life to our mortal bodies in the age to come. But even now his spirit can help us to graspthe fullness of life andthe joy that God intends.For example, he helps us to act with love and mercy. Caring for the sick is a corporal work of mercy that brings them some relief. Our hope is that social distancing and self-isolation can also be seen as a work of mercy. Works of mercy do carry on the work of Jesus and cooperate with the spirit within us. But it's faith in Jesus that brings eternal life; faith renewed by the sacrament that we are about to receive.