Today, (although it’s really Monday and we won’t be hard-copy printing our Bulletin), I write about the coming weekend—the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The First Reading is by the Prophet Ezekiel and is a message of hope to a dispersed and discouraged people (like us, somewhat, now). Ezekiel was among those deported when the Babylonians first took Jerusalem. In that exile Ezekiel’s mission was to preach the word of God in order to bring new life and hope to a ‘dead’ Israel. And Ezekiel’s message from God is clear: he assures his hearers of God’s abiding presence among them, of God’s involvement in the events of the day, so that Israel and all nations “will know that I am the Lord.” The Prophet Ezekiel speaks for the Lord saying: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them…”
Like those exiled Israelites, you might wonder if God really watches over you (us!), how could God let this happen to me (us)? This is an understandable response to suffering in the life of those who do trust and believe in God’s providential care. However, as we grow in intimacy with God through our suffering, we have the grace-filled opportunity to grow in spiritual wisdom. We may come to understand that our loving and merciful God sustains us in all things, and watches over us—even as our God as a presence protects us from nothing, really, not even a pandemic. We may wonder: “Where is God?” Here's the point: even as a member of a distressed community you're always an individual; but during any crisis of magnitude you do not have the luxury of responding as an individual. The suffering of a whole community in crisis cannot be absorbed by any single individual—solo persons cannot respond for all. We must respond as a community, for our safety, for comfort, and for our survival. Every person must do their part; all in participation for all—the pain is communal pain and so to, must be our response.
Today St. Paul reminds us that we are promised resurrection; and the Gospel of John today tells the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I have always also believed that life’s natural pattern by God was “life, (passion) then death and then resurrection” in all created things. Jesus reveals to us what is happening everywhere and always in God. Summed up in the person of Jesus is the map, the blueprint, the promise, the pledge, the plan, the covenant and the guarantee: “Life is changed, not ended” is what we hear at every Catholic funeral. After crisis, there is life—changed, but not ended. In thinking about the readings for today, and “the Passion” (Life, Death, Resurrection) and our current crisis, I feel that the phrase could be expanded and be a comfort and be better understood and taken in by all of us if it were: “Life, Death, Resurrection: New Life.”
The Responsorial Psalm (#130) today is: “With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption. From out of the depths I cry unto you, Lord…” Death is not only just a physical dying. When we go to the full depth of things, when we hit the bottom, and when we are in events beyond our own control, we all may experience death in many ways—not just the obvious way. This pandemic teaches us of the death of normal life for now, as we know it. In the future, we will re-define how, where, when and why of all we do—sort of a forced reconciliation with our choices and priorities. We all experience many kinds of “deaths” in our lifetime, and each “death” is an opportunity for transformation, conversion, growth and new life—or new after-life…
When a death happens for us (especially those of our very own sins and mistakes), we know that with the help of true reconciliation we will rise from these depths of our spiritual tombs and be rescued. It does not mean that God prevents the tragic thing, the cruel thing, the unfair thing from happening. God opens the graves of our souls, puts a new spirit within us, and we are saved. Normally the very things that would destroy us—tragedy, sorrow, sickness, calamity, pain, pandemic, prejudice, intolerance, injustice, grief—God uses to transform and enlighten us! God works through all things for good. We may now begin to understand how it is that God works through all things for good—that this understanding is the Paschal mystery—the Passion, Death and Resurrection that leads us to the new life of after.