Turn Away From Sin and be Faithful to the Gospel
Lent, Year C (A), Week 5 John 11-37, 17, 20-27, 33b-45 March-21-2010
“Lazarus has arisen!”
These are familiar words in my household, usually directed towards someone who has slept in late, and emerged from his or her room, all bleary eyed and blinking in the sunlight. When we sleep in it`s inevitable, we know we will awake to my wife proclaiming, “Lazarus has arisen!”
The kids are old enough now that they sometimes are known to stay out quite late on a Saturday evening, or on a day off from work and school, they may sleep in a little late and hear that familiar morning greeting from Claire, “Lazarus has arisen!”
Many people when they hear the story of Lazarus may be like me when I was a child hearing it for the first time, imagining a mummy-type creature or perhaps a zombie coming out from the tomb, clothes trailing behind him as he stumbles in the daylight... a little like Saturday mornings at my house.
This very Gospel reading is read during Lent, and a common reading at Funerals and at Parish Prayers for good reason, in fact I chose just this Gospel reading earlier this week when I led the Parish Prayers in celebration of the life of a former parishioner at the Funeral Home.
In funeral settings the message of Lazarus is easily understood to be a message of hope in life eternal, in resurrection, of faith in Jesus Christ and of great comfort to a grieving family and to supportive friends and neighbours. This Gospel speaks to the truth of our faith, and can be just the right expression of our Catholic faith in a time of sorrow or confusion.
A loving family, sisters Martha and Mary call for Jesus in their time of great concern for the health of their dying brother Lazarus. Jesus is walking around on the face of the planet in their time, and they plead for his intervention in real time – in effect, they pray as we should pray, in real time. Their interactions with Christ, in friendship, in supplication, in conversation and in expressions of grief are just as natural as prayer can be for us, and it can be just that direct. Jesus hears the call and while he is on his way Lazarus dies. Still, Jesus is steadfast and takes that moment to teach his disciples, to teach us, that an abiding faith in the Son of God will overcome even the power of death.
Arriving in Judea, he is greeted in great devotion by Martha, the grieving sister. Listen to Martha’s words. “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” For some people that sounds like a challenge to Christ, perhaps a rebuke. To my ears these may well be the greatest expression of faith I have heard in a time of grief.
Put another way, we say, ``because you are here, my loved one has not died.`` Martha had great faith in the power of Christ to overcome death, but understood it in temporal terms. She knew Jesus in the here and now, she knew Jesus in the flesh. What she didn`t understand, and what we are taught through the words of this Gospel, is that because of our faith, Jesus is with us at the end of our time here on earth, and we shall not die. Like Lazarus, we will rise again.
And Lazarus physically does, right there and then. Jesus calls him out of the tomb. “Lazarus, come out.”
During this time of Lent we Catholics take forty days to examine our relationship with God, our relationship with Christ.
It is tradition that we practice acts of penance, charity and fasting during Lent. Many of us have made plans and commitments to charitable works, to giving up this or doing that, but not just for the sake of doing or not doing, giving or not taking, but to bring us closer to Christ; to deepen our relationship with Christ.
Strip away the distractions, deny the selfish desires, face the temptation and do it in a prayerful way, and we may find ourselves face to face with Christ, one hopes. At the very least, perhaps we find ourselves examining our relationship with Christ.
We find ourselves confronting and acknowledging that which stands between us and God, that which we must bring to Christ if we’re ever going to have a spiritually productive Lent. It’s called sin.
It is said that sin is what separates us from God, anything that creates distance between us and God. Sin causes us to turn away from God in shame. Our sins cause us to hide from God and neighbour and from Christ and even from the body of Christ – His people, His word, His sacrifice, His Eucharistic presence.
It can even prevent us from receiving communion, and until we reconcile through the sacrament of Reconciliation with our God,until then it can be very lonely spiritually.
We can even feel as though God has turned his face from us, or when we see that sin is committed freely in our society to the detriment of the helpless and the defenceless, we might even wonder if it is God who is dead.
In truth, is it not we who die a little inside each time we sin? In our shame, and perhaps in our human pride, we try and go it alone, we try to tell ourselves we don’t need God, we don’t need to come to Church, we don’t need to confess our sins to anyone, because, after all, isn’t it just between me and God?
Before long we can become like Lazarus in the tomb. Sick and dying, and after time, our relationship with Christ dies. But not His with us.
Christ answers the prayers of the faithful. He stands at the tomb of our loneliness and shame and calls to our sinful souls “Come out! Lazarus, come out!” Christ speaks to us, and we cannot deny ourselves, we are drawn to Him. Like Lazarus, we are drawn to the sound of his voice because he calls us by name.
We started our Lenten journey together, with ashes on our foreheads and the words “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Over the last five weeks we have gathered to pray a good Lent together, through daily prayers, the Stations of the Cross; we have shared Eucharistic adoration and Benediction and evening Vespers. Together we have prayed for each other because we know there is life everlasting for each of us, there is a hope, there is a chance to do just that, to turn away from sin and being faithful to the Gospel, to walk into the light of forgiveness and the loving embrace of our brother, friend and saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because of our faith in Christ, we shall not die, we shall live.