Sunday, April 2, 2017

CHRIST COMMANDS THAT WE LEAVE THE TOMB: a homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A (John 11:1–45)

You can hear the homily here.
In my time as a secondary school chaplain I buried four students, three girls and a boy.  I felt inadequate that all I could do was offer my prayers and words of condolences to their parents.  I wondered how I could have so failed to cooperate with God’s grace that there was no miracle for each of them and no restoration of them to their families.  This is probably the experience of all who minister to the dying and bereaved.  We want to make the problem go away and end the sorrow.  In this we touch on the mysteries of suffering and death.
Suffering is part of this life because our first parents refused to live in obedience to the Lord and asserted their own will.  The human race morally fell and we have been asserting our own will ever since.  Every family row, legal battle, crime, or sin is a testimony to our addiction to our own will.   Deep down in the core of our being we believe, each and every one of us, that we are the centre of everything, the hero of our own drama, the composer and singer of our own unique song.  We are not usually aware of this but if you examine any evil act there you will find at its heart the human drive to be the centre and to assert one’s own will over all others’, even God’s.  From this arises most of the suffering in our world.
Especially death.  Death is the one absolutely certain fact of our lives.  We cannot avoid it.  It takes from us our family members, friends and neighbours and eventually takes us from those that remain.  We die because our nature is fallen but our soul is immortal.   Here lies the suffering that we all experience in life, the one we dread will come to us inevitably, and the one we learn to live with: the loss of those we love.  As human beings everything we do is done in the shadow of our own mortality.  We fear death and dying and in that fear we flee away into all sorts of what addiction counselors call ‘self medications’.  We use the things of this world to numb us against the profound reality of our own limitedness.  Pretty gloomy thoughts for a Sunday evening yet there is hope.
So many Christians do not grasp the significance of this: we were made for communion with God.  We are a work of God’s goodness and humility and it was so that He could take the lowest possible place that God created us.  But through the disobedience, the self-regard of our first parents we have lost our friendship with God.  According to Genesis God saw that “it is not good for man to be alone” but this not only means that man and woman are made for one another but that we are also made for communion with God.  The ultimate loneliness is to be without God.  That is now reestablished in Christ.  More than the friendship our first parents had we are offered communion with God in the heart of the Trinity, a communion not just on the spiritual level but even on the level of our bodies; all in Christ.
In the meantime though, made as we are for eternal life with God yet subject to suffering and death, we struggle to cope with this tension.  We long for the infinite, the everlasting, the final victory of all that is good, beautiful and true and yet we are constantly facing the reality that even as new beauties and wonders arise, so many are passing away.  If you have read the Lord of the Rings you will understand what I talking about.
So we come to this Sunday’s gospel.  The Lord loves his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, yet delays to visit dying Lazarus in order that His Father be glorified.  The Lord always answers us but, whether He answers with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, He may delay the answer for His own good reasons. Martha gives testimony to the Faith, much as Peter did elsewhere, and our Lord affirmed her.  Mary has faith but not as Martha has.  Mary sat at the feet of our Lord and He fed her with His word but Martha, labouring in the kitchen, heard the word and believed.  In Martha the word has set down roots that have flowered in her confession of faith in the Lord and the resurrection on the Last Day. 
Our Lord gave a sigh that came from the depth of His heart.  He was moved at the suffering around Him.  His Divine love comes to us through a human heart, a human heart that is to be pierced on Good Friday and from which, as John himself testifies, he saw blood and water flow; often understood as symbols of the Sacraments especially Baptism and Eucharist.  It is through the Sacraments that we are given communion with the Holy Trinity.  But He does not love us only with His heart.
Our Lord wept.  He wept but He did not mourn.  Some take the line that He wept so as to give us a model for moderation in our emotions.  We are not to keen and mourn over those who have passed away the way unbelievers do because we have the hope of the resurrection and eternal life.  The only true reason to mourn is over our sins and the sins of others.  Why did He weep over Lazarus though?  He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead so why did He weep?  One does not weep for someone one will see again in a few days (not if you’re a man anyway).  I would suggest that our Lord wept for the condition of man, of the human race, fallen under the power of death and sin, deprived of grace, deprived of truth, deprived of God and His light, of the possibility of the Beatific Vision, the sight of God for ever in Heaven.  He weeps for man stuck in darkness, without the friendship of God, without the Divine illumination, and without saving faith, doomed to the domination of the evil one and his minions.   He wept that at that moment He could only raise Lazarus from the dead not the whole human race from the tomb of sin and death.
Lazarus is us.  We are Lazarus.  Christ has raised us from spiritual death through His suffering, death and resurrection.  He has unbound us and brought us out of the darkness of the tomb into the daylight of grace.  By this means He has revealed that we are made for communion with God and that outside of that communion true peace cannot be ours.  By becoming man, truly human without surrendering His Divinity, He made it possible for us to become one with Him through the Sacraments in His Body the Church.  Our old self died in baptism; it is up to us to apply the death and resurrection of Christ to all aspects of our lives.   We are a new creation in Christ, members of the Body of Christ the New Adam and children of Mary, the New Eve.
            When we die we leave our bodies behind but we will get them back on the Last Day, the Day of Judgment when all mankind, everyone who has ever existed will stand before God and give an account of themselves.  On that Day we shall get our bodies back for we are made to be embodied spirits.  The just will join the Lord in Heaven and the unjust, the unrepentant will go down into Hell.  Purgatory will be no more.  
As one man who had died and came back to life said “when you are dead everything is different.  What is important to you here is not important there.”  One can be confused in this life, ignorant and subject to bad habits and pressure from others but once dead all these fall away and one sees onesefs as one, what you and I have made of our own self.  One chooses where one goes when one dies by how one lives here on Earth.  If you refuse to take Him seriously in this life how can you expect to attain to eternal life with Him in Heaven?  You can delude yourself that you will receive mercy when you die but you will only receive that mercy if you repent of your sins and confess them in this life.  We are to throw ourselves on His mercy now and not some time in the future. 

You and I are Lazarus in the tomb.  The voice of the Lord commands that we come out and join Him in the daylight.  It is up to us to repent of our sins and confess them and step out into the light of Divine grace.  It is only in the daylight of His loving mercy that we can be free to flourish and live.  The tomb has nothing to offer but darkness, dust and death.

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