All over the world today, the gospel story of Lazarus would have been (or is being, or will be) read. It comes around every year on the Fifth Sunday of Lent and is probably one of the better-known miracles of Jesus.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most homilies today were about death. The homily I heard certainly was, and I can’t remember ever hearing someone preach on this gospel and not focus on death. I mean, just look at the readings that go along with it today. The reading from Ezekiel: “I am going to open your graves [and] raise you from your graves… you will live”. The second reading, from the letter to the Romans: “Though your body may be dead it is because of sin… [and] he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies…”
I was surprised, then, to be sitting in Mass today and have a totally different theme leap out at me.
Have you ever experienced a line of Scripture striking your heart like an arrow? It’s as though that line was shouted, while the rest was barely whispered. It doesn’t happen to me very often, but when it does I try to sit up and take notice – it’s usually because the Man Upstairs is trying to get my attention. That’s what happened today, proving once again that “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Psalm 129 is fairly familiar to me – it comes up often in the breviary. So I was surprised when I heard a line with ‘new ears’, as though for the first time.
Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.
That one line was like… a mental explosion. Or at least, the catalyst for a mental explosion. (Let’s now hope I can trace the wreckage in an intelligible way!)
If I went and asked a random pedestrian whether the sun is going to rise tomorrow, they’d look at me like I was crazy. Of course the sun will rise tomorrow, they’d exclaim, There’s no doubt about that! And I would agree with them. But do I have that same trust, that same confidence, in the Lord? His love for us is more dependable, more certain, than the sun rising tomorrow morning. I plan things for tomorrow without even questioning whether dawn will break; yet how often do I question God’s love, or faithfulness, or power, or truth?
The question resounded within me: Do I count on the Lord as surely as I count on daybreak?
This idea of trust formed itself for me as a ‘key’ to the rest of today’s Scriptures.
Death – usually preached as today’s dominant theme – is what Tolkien calls ‘the doom of man’. When someone close to us dies, it doesn’t feel like some normal or natural process. It jars us. It disturbs us. It is one of our biggest fears and preoccupations. Our entire being cries out, This is not right! Because it isn’t right: we were made for life, not for death. Death is a punishment for sin, and sin entered the world through one man (see Romans 5:12, 6:23).
So how can we love God in a world plagued by death? How can we know that He is loving, faithful, powerful, and truthful?
You will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people.
Right there, in the first reading, the Lord is crying out: Trust in me! I can destroy your greatest fear! The second reading reinforces this by telling us exactly how our death is overcome: it is by the Spirit of God living within us! But we, in our weakness and distrust and sin and blindness, reply: What gives you the power to do this? Can we really trust you? And Jesus says:
I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE…
Do you believe this?
Do you believe this? Do you trust him? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart… and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3: 5-6)
To finish, I wish to share Charles de Foucald’s Prayer of Abandonment.
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.