Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Genevieve Robinson, OSB | April 2, 2017

 On Ash Wednesday we began our Lenten 2017 journey by receiving ashes on our foreheads as the minister said, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Now as we enter into the fifth week of Lent, the gospel reminds us of Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ approaching death and resurrection.  Both Ash Wednesday prayers and the gospel of the Fifth Sunday focus on death and life after resurrection.  

When Lazarus became gravely ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus to come before their brother died, but in spite of his great love for the three, Jesus did not immediately heed the call of the sisters; instead, He waited four days before arriving at Bethany.   Was the lag time to test their faith?  How often have we received a request of urgency but postponed our response?  I suspect not often, if at all.  Why did Jesus linger allowing so many days to pass?  When Jesus did arrive, Martha spoke plainly to Him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Martha had wanted a miracle.  After Jesus spoke about her brother rising again, she understood that all would rise in the resurrection; nonetheless, she did not understand His full meaning.

Because Martha and the others did not fully comprehend the words of Jesus, He led them to the tomb and insisted that the door be opened.  Then, He commanded Lazarus to rise and to come out.  Bound in his death shroud, Lazarus came forth.  By Jesus’ action, had death been defeated?  Temporally, yes.  Would all those present witness eternal life?  

Death and suffering in one form or another seem to be all around us today.  One has only to read the daily paper or watch the local or national news.  Even though the unemployment rate continues to decrease, many are without jobs.  Mines and plants are closed.  However, people in former coal country and rust belt areas believe against hope that work, as they knew it, will return.  All over America, in small towns, and cities, the poor suffer from debilitating illnesses; children in many parts of the nation, indeed all over the world, experience hunger; many in the United States depend on public health care and the success of Medicaid.  In urban and rural areas death by suicide and murder occur too often.   Some communities are living under deadly environmental conditions, such as, exposure to exceedingly high levels of lead in water used for drinking and bathing.  In other parts of the world, the number of refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria who are fleeing their homeland overwhelms nation-states.

With so much suffering and death around us, has death been defeated? Will life–eternal life--come forth?  Listening to the words of Pope Francis, we must remember that God “will put [His] spirit in [us] that [we] may live . . . .  [And] that our Lenten celebration must serve to remind us that the paschal mystery represents a victory over [suffering and] death.“

I will leave you with a short excerpt from a homily titled “Out of Death into Life” by Reverend Robyn Szoke-Coolidge, an Episcopal priest. She wrote:  “On the fifth Sunday of Lent, [let us] remember whose we are [i.e., to whom we belong] and who we are, and we [will] know that tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things for [us].  So dance like no one is looking and sing; and on Easter [we] will renew our Baptismal promise and rise to a new life.”