March 29, 2020 – Fifth Sunday of Lent
Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45
I will be delivering the following homily during a livestream Mass from St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today at 11:00 a.m. To access the livestream Mass: facebook.com/spxparishindy
It is good to celebrate Mass with you this morning. Our situation certainly highlights the fact that Church is not a building; Church is people – it’s community. To be joined communally, even virtually, is a blessing. That said, Fr. Jim and I look forward to the day we can all be together.
Speaking of Fr. Jim, you should know that as much as he misses all of you, he has become quite enamored with being a social media star. I am happy that he is engaging with the parish in this way, but I think he has gone too far with a few things. He now has hair and make-up people camped out in his office, which I’m pretty sure is a violation of social distancing. On a whiteboard in the reception area he records how many viewers he gets each day and the daily increase in the number of ‘likes’ he gets. I also find it unsettling when he asks me how he looks before we begin Mass.
I really hope we’re all back here at St. Pius X very soon.
We don’t need to dig too deeply to identify the theme that ties today’s three readings together. Clearly the readings are focused on being raised from the dead, on the possibility of new life.
In the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel we heard, “I will open your graves
and have you rise from them…I will put my spirit in you that you may live.”
St. Paul was just as transparent in his letter to the Romans: “…the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Finally, in the Gospel of John, we heard the familiar story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. “When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days. He said, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.”
Since all of the readings focus on new life, it would be easy to categorize them as resurrection stories and present them as a prelude to Easter Sunday. The first two readings do indeed reference our own personal resurrection. Both speak to the role of the Spirit in leading us to a new life in heaven. “I will put my spirit in you that you may live” and “Give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit dwelling in you.” That is our hope – that we possess the gift of the Spirit and experience the new life of the resurrection when we leave our earthly life behind.
However, the raising of Lazarus from the dead is not a resurrection story, it is a resuscitation story. Lazarus was not resurrected, at least not at that point. Rather, he was resuscitated. He was still wrapped in his burial cloths; he was still bound. Jesus ordered, “Untie him and let him go.” Lazarus was brought back to life, returned to the earthly life he knew, and given a chance to continue living that same life. I’m sure he appreciated life more, and no longer took it for granted – but it was still an earthly life.
Understandably, this resuscitation brought joy to Lazarus and his family and friends. However, earthly joy is temporary – our ultimate goal is not resuscitation, but resurrection.
In his book, Catholicism, Bishop Robert Barron wrote: “When we die our earthly death, we hope to be resurrected in Christ. We want to experience eternal life. It will bear no resemblance to the life we have lived here on earth. Resurrection will not give us a second chance at our current life. It will offer us a new life. Our human minds cannot fully understand the concept of heaven, but through Jesus’ teachings we know that it is not just more of the same.”
Bishop Barron continues: “Many of us fear death. Perhaps this fear comes from the misconception that ‘life after death’ will just be a continuation of our earthly life. Our fear of death might be diminished somewhat if we hold out hope in the resurrection, and a new life of unimaginable joy.”
Scripture scholars often break the Gospel of John into four parts or books. There is a prologue at the beginning and an epilogue at the end. The middle of the gospel, the meat if you will, is comprised of two parts – the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory. The story of the raising of Lazarus serves as a bridge between the two.
Jesus said of Lazarus, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” The illness, death, and resuscitation of Lazarus were signs leading us to the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Resuscitation is found in the Book of Signs. Resurrection is found in the Book of Glory.
It is certainly not my intent to diminish the resuscitation of Lazarus. We have a desire for, and place our hope in, the resurrection. That is our ultimate goal. However, we may need to be resuscitated along the way, perhaps multiple times along the way, to realize that desire.
Many of us have a faith that is bound up – struggling and inactive – or perhaps even dead. What is offered to us in this world has become all that matters. Attaining things in the here and now has taken priority over attaining eternal life in heaven. Our faith life and our personal relationship with God need to be resuscitated. We need life breathed back into the lungs of our faith. This resuscitation offers us a second chance at this life, more opportunities on earth to help us attain heaven. Our resuscitation will fuel our determination to live a faith-filled life, restore our hope in the resurrection, and reveal the glory of God.
That sentiment has been included in my ongoing prayers during this current health crisis. I have prayed for the repose of the souls of those that have died from the virus and have offered prayers of peace and comfort for their families. I have prayed for a quick and complete recovery for those currently suffering from the disease. I have prayed for all of the health care professionals working on the front lines, as well as those impacted financially by the crisis.
I have also prayed that out of the suffering, sadness, chaos, and isolation of our current situation will emerge a renewed faith in God. I pray it has taught us to slow down, live better, and love better. I pray these challenging times will serve to resuscitate our faith, bring people back to the Church, and help us recognize God’s loving presence in our lives. I pray we no longer take this earthly life for granted and strive to glorify God in all we do.
May we be untied and set free. May we be resuscitated and place our hope in the resurrection.