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5th Sunday of Lent Cycle A (Scrutiny Readings) March 17, 2013
Ezekiel 37:12-14 Romans 8:8-11 John 11:1-45
It’s not quite the story of all stories. You know, the real story. That would be Easter Sunday.
But the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is a story that leads to the real story. Sort of like of the story of the Conclave meeting in Rome has led to the bigger story of the election of a new Pontiff, Pope Francis I. And these stories that we address today are not fiction. They are not novels, like the Da Vinci Code; the story of one person’s imagination. These are real and true. They are the facts.
As Jesus arrives in the town of Bethany, there’s a great deal of subtle questioning going on. There’s a deep sense present that the Lord has failed. That Jesus has let everyone down. Even his dearest friends.
Granted, the questioning and the sense of Jesus missing the boat on the sickness of Lazarus – whatever deadly disease Lazarus was dealing with – serves us well. Their questioning Jesus is also our questioning the Lord. And as we most likely know, some questioning is good. Some questioning is put forth for the purpose of learning something more fully. Gaining knowledge, if you will. However, other questioning comes from the standpoint that the one being questioned has left out an answer that should have been present. An answer that should have been a given.
Jesus not being present during the sickness of Lazarus that led to his death was an apparent answer to the people of Bethany that was unacceptable. Jesus should have provided them the answer of his presence and a miracle that would have cured the sickness of Lazarus. That’s what Martha and Mary and the whole town of Bethany were looking for. Where’s the Master? Where’s the Lord? Where’s the one they call the Christ? Where’s the Great Healer of the blind, the lame, and the sick? Why is he not present for his sickly friend who is about to die? If this is how he treats his friends, no wonder he has so few of them!
On a strictly human level, absent heavenly thinking, the absence of Jesus in Bethany during the death march of Lazarus was a miserable failure. It struck a raw nerve with the two sisters of Lazarus, along with their many friends in town. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” “And Jesus wept.”
Sometimes in this real story that leads to the greater story of Easter, I wonder if Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, or if he wept at the town believing that this story was finished in the death of Lazarus. “Oh, he’s here now- FINALLY – but nothing good can happen at this point in the story. His absence left a glaring hole in his ministry. The size of a black hole in space. Or, the size of a mustard seed.”
If only we have faith the size of a mustard seed, or the size of Jupiter, we would all be filled with joy, because we would carry within our hearts the belief that the story is not finished just because Lazarus has died. That this real story has not run out of gas, and that all the pumps are forever closed.
When Jesus arrives in Bethany, or Worcester, or Holden, or any other place we reside, the story – the real story – has just begun.
He’ll go through all the questioning like “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” He’ll stand there and listen patiently to all the questions and concerns we can muster up and ask God. He will do so out of his unconditional love for us. Heck, that’s the reason he showed up in the first place! His unconditional love! He doesn’t show up to pray at the tomb of Lazarus and leave him in there! He didn’t enter their village to console anyone! He didn’t care if the rock that closed the tomb of Lazarus was secured or loose! He didn’t care if there was a stench! He came to the village of Bethany, and Worcester, and Holden, and everywhere else, because he loves us unconditionally. In his arrival, the story – the real story – begins. Because there is no ending with Jesus Christ!
And so the real story begins. It begins with the questioning, the doubting, probably some scoffers, and a few who are hoping he is the resurrection and the life. This is the purpose of his arrival. An arrival that is not 4 days late. But perfectly timed for the glory of God.
St. Paul: “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also.”
“Lazarus, come out.”
Now we understand, if in fact we do believe, why the greatest story ever told begins in the presence of a dead body. The story doesn’t end with Jesus’ arrival 4 days after a friend has died. The story begins with Jesus’ arrival in the presence of a dead man. Someone who happened to be a friend of his. Someone he ate and drank with. A family that knew him and loved him. But there are no strangers with God. The story – the real story – begins anew with Jesus’ power over our greatest enemy, death.
“Lazarus, come out.” That is the one voice that all the spirits heed. His voice is the only voice that speaks a command, and the spirit of Lazarus that was…somewhere…returns to the flesh.
Our spirits and our souls, the spirits and souls of our loved ones, that invisible part of us, will hear and recognize his voice. Our spirit will race back to our bodies, and the story – the real story – will begin anew. With no possible ending.
Our Holy Week services and Masses are as follows: Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7:00 p.m. Our Good Friday Service, the Passsion of the Lord, will be held at 3:00 p.m., and Good Friday Stations of the Cross at 6:30 p.m. Our Easter Vigil Mass will begin at 7:30 p.m.