Homily, 2 April 2017: Fifth Sunday of Lent
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Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalms 130:1-2,3-4,5-6,7-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45—————Then you shall know that I am the Lord …—————What are we supposed to learn from this Gospel passage, which is called “The Raising of Lazarus?”It certainly brings to mind our deaths and our resurrection on the last day -- and thus increases our faith in the promises of Jesus. But is the raising of Lazarus the main point, or does it point to something else?—————In the first reading God says to his people, through a vision of the prophet Ezekiel, “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them.”“You shall know that I am the Lord …”Can a fallen people come know God once again? The prophet says yes, but only with God’s help. God will restore his people to faith through signs and revelations.You hear the very same issue in the prologue of John’s Gospel:In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … All things came to be through him … and what came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.The true light … was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.If you didn’t know, the first half of the Gospel According to John is called the Book of Signs and the Raising of Lazarus its climax. The Book of Signs expounds on the problem set forth in the Prologue: He was in the world … but the world did not know him … his own people did not accept him.—————What we see in The Raising of Lazarus are three disciples -- Thomas, Martha, and Mary -- struggling to understand who Jesus is. They have seen the signs and they are beginning to understand, but it is hard, so very hard.These people were Jews who believed in the One God. Monotheism is the foundation of their faith. Indeed it’s the foundation of our faith. So how could Jesus be God too? God was still in heaven, for Jesus spoke to his Father in Heaven. Yet by all the signs, Jesus was God incarnate. The Father was God. The Son was God, and the Spirit was God. Could they all be one God but not the same?It was a revelation, a sign, and it was a paradox that was approaching a crisis of faith for them. Could they worship Jesus as God?—————Thomas was still far from the answer. He said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him." He obviously loved Jesus, and was willing to die for him, but it’s also obvious that he hadn’t yet understood who Jesus was.Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." That’s an odd thing to say if you understand that Jesus is God.When Jesus asked Martha if she believed that he was the resurrection and the life, she said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world." But when Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days."When Mary fell at Jesus’ feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she was weeping. She believed that Jesus could heal someone at the edge of death and even someone who may have just died, but she thought her brother, who had been dead four days, was gone forever.Faced with the weeping of Mary and the others, Jesus became perturbed and deeply troubled. So he raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me." And then they saw the sign: Lazarus came out of the tomb. “You shall know that I am the Lord,when I open your graves and have you rise from them.”—————These first disciples were true heroes of the faith. They overcame their doubts and confusion: • Not long after her brother had been raised, Mary anointed Jesus feet at Bethany and wiped them with her hair. It was, for her, an act of worship.• Thomas, doubting Thomas, his final words in the Gospel were simply “My lord and my God.”Although it took the Church three centuries to formally declare the doctrine of the Trinity, don’t think it was a late addition to the faith. This wonderful mystery of God was the lived experience of the very first Christians.—————Back to the question: what are we supposed to learn from “The Raising of Lazarus?” Our faith is full of vibrant and challenging paradoxes.• We believe in the Trinity.• We believe in the resurrection, that eternal life comes through death.• We believe we are made in the image of God.• We believe in the Sacraments.I could go on. But the point is this: we have to struggle with these profound mysteries of the faith. Thomas, Martha, Mary and all the saints who went before us may inspire us and encourage us by the example of their own struggles, but they can’t struggle for us. We have to decide these things for ourselves.God has given us the signs. They have been passed down faithfully from those first disciples. They aren’t little knick-knacks, family heirlooms, that we set on a shelf to decorate our homes. They are paradoxes and essential questions of the faith that have come to us down through the centuries. These are the signs. Do you believe?