Homily at St Dyfrig’s for 5th Sunday of Lent, 2012 (using Year A readings for the 3rd Scrutiny)
Gospel: The Raising of Lazarus
The crowds are concerned for the well-being of one man. It seems that he has died. Normal activity has been suspended and the shocked people are in mourning. And then… wonderful news comes! Although he seems to have been dead for too long, he has in fact been restored to life!
Yes, the story of Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba has caught the headlines this week. In the midst of a world driven by commerical pressures and media agendas, we can salute a story of respect. Although football points and media revenue were at stake, the players of a football match agreed to stop playing when one of their number collapsed. Concern for their colleague, as his life hung in the balance, was more important.
It’s good to hear a story of respect in an age when the Government is disrespecting matters as fundamental as marriage, or the special nature of Sunday as a day when trading is restricted.
Today we are given the story of the Raising of Lazarus. He is the most prominent of three persons, apparently dead, restored to life by Jesus as the Gospel unfolds. The Acts of the Apostles present both Peter and Paul receiving God’s power to raise from the dead, with more stories of miracles. We do not reject these as merely stories added to the lives of religious leaders to demonstrate their holiness – we embrace them because they are fundamental to our Christian faith. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that we shall enjoy everlasting life with him. When we say the Creed, we confess: I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
As followers of Jesus we are not protected from human tragedies in this earthly life. The news in recent days has included two coach crashes, in Switzerland and on the M5, and the terrible shootings in Tolouse, as well as the increasing toll of British personnel who have put themeslves “in harm’s way” in Afganistan. I myself received news of the death of Eddie Murphy, one of my classmates at seminary, who was involved in a car accident in Ireland.
Listen – and this is important – JESUS NEVER PROMISED THAT THINGS LIKE THIS WOULDN’T HAPPEN.
There’s a part deep within each of us that says, with Mary and Martha -“Where were you Lord? You could have stopped this! We know you have the power to do so!”
Although it is painful to acknowledge, accidents happens.
Although it is painful to acknowledge, it is natural that children will, sooner or later, have to bury their parents.
To our eyes it seems a waste when a young life is cut short or a priest only ordained for 5 years is killed in a tragic accident. But in God’s eyes, these same lives continue into eternity.
Lazarus was not raised from the dead in order to live out an unending life on Earth. No, he was raised to demonstrate that God has power over life and death, so that we may trust that God will deliver the final resurrection of all who have ever lived.
Martha expressed regret that Jesus had not come in time to heal Lazarus, but stops short of saying “It’s all your fault.” She does not fall into to the trap which snares many of us, tempting us to say to God: “You could have stopped my loved one from dying, but you didn’t.” It is easy to blame God for allowing nature to take its course. We need to learn to forgive God for not meeting our expectations before we can love God in the way we are called to do. There is nothing wrong with God – but there is something wrong with our expectations!
Martha says to Jesus, in effect, “I wanted it to be different, but you can still make it OK.” This takes us to the heart of our faith. When Jesus died on the cross, he did what was needed to make it all OK. How exactly this works is a deep mystery – even C. S. Lewis, struggling for words to describe it, could only call it “Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time” – but the whole New Testament carries the message that the death of Jesus on the Cross IS what makes everything OK, and this death deserves our respect.
So Jesus says to us, as he did to Martha: “I am the resurrection. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
If we take this invitation to heart then we will know that our security is in being baptised and staying close to Jesus, keeping his commandments, being nourished by the Church’s sacraments.
That Fabrice Muamba has returned to life is a good news story which will run for a few weeks on the sports pages, and then disappear into history.
I speak now to the three men of our parish preparing for baptism in the Easter Season: as the day of your baptism draws near, you are preparing to receive a new life which will never end. With your baptism, you will be joined to Jesus Christ and placed under his protection. If you remain faithful to his commands to put God first and love your neighbour with selfless joy, then you share in the promise of Jesus that you shall never die. True, the body you currently have will one day fail, but your innermost being will be kept safe by God and restored to physical life on that day when Christ comes again.
The football players showed true respect for Muamba when they abandoned their match. This coming Holy Week is given to the Christian community as a time when we show respect for Jesus Christ by stepping out of our daily routine. The yellow sheets in your newsletter list many things taking place. This year, why not try something new?
If you have never been to the Office of Readings or to the Stations of the Cross, come! if you have never brought your children to a special event, come to the Tuesday penitential for children or the Friday morning stations. Read the schedule with prayer, and choose to honour the death of Christ with a sacrifice of time. Remember why we are doing this, and to whom we are giving respect.
The last word today must be Martha’s: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.”
Due to the change of clocks, not all the Elect for baptism were present for Mass, so this homily was given out again at the Mass for the Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer on Tuesday of Holy Week.