Fifth Sunday of Lent – A

Readings: Ezek 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-8; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

Everybody has troubles but not everybody has JESUS.

  • I dreamed that I went to heaven and an angel was showing me around. We walked side-by-side inside a large workroom filled with angels. My angel guide stopped in front of the first section and said, ‘This is the Receiving Section. Here, all petitions to God said in prayer are received.’I looked around in this area, and it was terribly busy with so many angels sorting out petitions written on voluminous paper sheets and scraps from people all over the world.Then we moved on down a long corridor until we reached the second section.

    The angel then said to me, ‘This is the Packaging and Delivery Section. Here, the graces and blessings the people asked for are processed and delivered to the living persons who asked for them. ‘I noticed again how busy it was there. There were many angels working hard at that station, since so many blessings had been requested and were being packaged for delivery to Earth.

    Finally at the farthest end of the long corridor we stopped at the door of a very small station. To my great surprise, only one angel was seated there, idly doing nothing. ‘This is the Acknowledgment Section,’ my angel friend quietly admitted to me. He seemed embarrassed ‘How is it that there is no work going on here?’ I asked.

    ‘So sad,’ the angel sighed. ‘After people receive the blessings that they asked for, very few send back acknowledgments .’

    ‘How does one acknowledge God’s blessings?’ I asked.

    ‘Simple,’ the angel answered. Just say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’

    ‘What blessings should they acknowledge?’ I asked.

    ‘If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy .’

    ‘And if you are reading this homily this on your own computer, you are part of the 1% in the world who has that opportunity.’

    ‘If you woke up this morning with more health than illness … you are more blessed than the many who will not even survive this day .’

    ‘If you have never experienced the fear in battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation … you are ahead of 700 million people in the world.’

    ‘If you can attend a church without the fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death you are envied by, and more blessed than, three billion people in the world! .’

    ‘If your parents are still alive and still married …you are very rare .’

    ‘If you can hold your head up and smile, you are not the norm, you’re unique to all those in doubt and despair.’

    Ok, what now? how can I start?

    If you can read this message, you just received a double blessing in that someone was thinking of you as very special and you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all.

    Have a good day and count your blessings!!!

  • Years ago when my husband and I were dating I purchased two coffee mugs; the kind that has your name on it and a description of what your name foretells and it was pretty accurate. People used to make fun of our corny coffee mugs but that’s okay. I didn’t purchase them to impress anyone.We have had those mugs now for 25 years. They are crackled, worn and very faded and no longer usable.In 2007 and into 2008 (and as of this writing, more surgeries in 2010 and 2011), I had a long battle with breast cancer – numerous surgeries; too many to count; chemo and radiation, more surgeries, infections. Pretending to be fearless and unafraid I forged onward with a smile and a joke. Or at least I tried until the demons took over. Underneath, only those closest to me and always there for me – my family – really knew I was cracking beneath the surface.

    One morning, my husband Doug poured my coffee as he did every morning in my “Terri” cup. The cup could no longer take the heat. It finally cracked and broke. This was a sign to me. I lost it. I began to cry.

    “Doug, what if I break? What if I die? This means something! I am broken! What if I can’t be fixed?” I was hysterical.

    He just hugged me and calmed me down. He quickly left the room and went to the basement. He came back with some ceramic glue. I could see the tears in his eyes. He took that mug and told me he was going to fix that mug and that nothing was going to happen to me. I would be healed and cancer was not going to “break” me.

    Doug feverishly fixed that cup with such determination.

    He did the same with me with his care. The cup is not the same strength as it was before (kind of like me) and I can no longer drink from it but it still sits in our cupboard.

    I am the same but I am slightly altered; a little cracked but not completely broken. “Glued” back together of sorts. I will never forget that day my husband tried to save my favorite coffee mug. It was a turning point for both of us and all we had been holding in.

    And that mug – like Doug – will stay with me as long as I live.

    By Terri hess, on Positive Outlook Blogs

Today is the 5th Sunday of Lent, and the last but one week of Lent. This will be followed by ‘Passion Sunday,’ (Palm Sunday) and finally ‘the holy Week’ that will reach its peak on ‘Easter Sunday.’ The central theme of today’s Scripture Readings is the resurrection and the life. The three readings of today fit beautifully together as they tell us of death yielding to a new way of life. Life and death; hope and despair are the key phrases that sum up the message of this Sunday.

In the First Reading of today from the Book of Ezekiel, the Prophet Ezekiel gives hope to his countrymen who are in exile in Babylon and are on the brink of despair. They seem dead, their temple is destroyed, their land is wasted, and they find themselves an enslaved people in a foreign land. In this section of the prophecy, the imagery is that of the dead bodies – God opens their graves and makes them rise from the dead. He then says that he will send his Spirit on them that they may live. These are the words of promise designed to reassure and comfort the people that God has not abandoned them. Ezekiel is a master of evocative images, and it is clear that the poetry of this passage is meant to be interpreted symbolically in terms of the nation’s ultimate fate.

Now, when God promised to put his Spirit within his people, this was not a reference to the resurrection that awaits every soul on earth. It was a promise to give a new life to the people of Israel. While the Words of God appeared to imply a day of resurrection, in those days, such a belief was only a concept worthy of reflections. For God’s mystery concerning death, being buried and rising with Christ had not yet been revealed to mankind.

In the Second Reading of today from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul continues the theme of Resurrection which is common to other two readings. Here St. Paul contrasts between two widely contrasting kinds of life, namely, the life of the flesh and the life of the Spirit. He tells them that the Spirit of God dwells in them, and that they should also remember that the Spirit of God is God! As such, it is God himself who dwells in them who belong to Christ. Again, the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit who dwells in them. And having raised Christ from the dead, through his indwelling, surely he will also give life to their mortal bodies. As can be perceived from the glorious resurrection, all goods things find their ultimate origin in the Father through whom we receive the life of the Spirit. Hence we must convert ourselves to live in a life of holiness for God.

Gospel: Introduction The raising of Lazarus is the climax of the 7 signs (or miracles) recounted in St John’s Gospel. Here’s a quick recap of the story:

· Lazarus is sick.

· his sisters Mary and Martha send for Jesus to heal him.

· Jesus loves them but he has a plan to use Lazarus for God’s glory, so waits for 2 days before doing anything.

· Then Jesus tells the disciples they’re going back to Judea for him – the same place where everyone had been trying to kill them!

· Jesus finally reaches 4 days after Lazarus died and is told by the sisters that he should have got there earlier.

· Jesus puts his plan into action and raises Lazarus from the dead for his Father’s glory.

While researching this sermon, I discovered this passage is regularly used for funerals. For those who have been through bereavement I am sure you can relate to what Lazarus’ sisters went through and the encouragement that his death was not meaningless, but served God’s glory. So why is this short episode that only appears in John’s Gospel of any relevance to us today? Well, Lazarus is Us – In the same way Lazarus died from a sickness and was raised from the dead during his life, we are bound to death by our sin and are reborn in Christ during our lives. The rest of Lazarus’s life was a witness to this miracle for God’s glory, and so should our lives. Lazarus’s name is a shortened form of Eleazar which means “God helps”, and he is from a town whose name Bethany means “House of affliction”. So God helps one who suffers from affliction – isn’t that us in our human state. This is the story of our coming to life at the present moment, not just a future event. So we are surrounded by dead people, in the street, at work, even at church.

There are many examples in the Scriptures:

1 Timothy 5:6 : “But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.”

Luke 15:24 : “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. ‘ So they began to celebrate.” – Within the Parable of the Lost Son So what is this ‘sickness’ that can cause us to (metaphorically) die in our lives?

We can die in our lives through: Disorientation like the disciples | Delay like Martha | Discouragement like Mary

Let’s get back to our story of Lazarus to see how we too can be raised from the dead. Summed up in Jesus’ 3 commands:

· John 11:39 : “Take away the stone” – We need to “roll away” these blocking points in our lives (Disorientation, Delay, Discouragement) and open the way for God to enter our heart. Like Martha and the Jews fearing a stench in the tomb after 4 days of the decaying body and not knowing that Jesus would raise him, we need to have the faith to open up the stench in our lives to Jesus’ life restoring power.

· John 11:43 : “Lazarus, come out!” – Jesus could have done this miracle discretely through the· working of the Spirit but instead he uses a loud Gospel call requiring a response from us to bring our dead souls out of the grave of sin. Let’s replace “Lazarus, come out!” with our own name – We are being asked to stop acting dead and start living for God.

· John 11:44 : “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” – Jesus addressed this request to the· onlookers. In the same way we as a church need to support our brothers and sisters in helping them take off their grave clothes, to live as disciples for Christ. We cannot convert our relatives and friends, but can inform and invite them, leaving God to act on them through his grace. Here we are next to one of the world’s fashion capitals – let’s not settle for watching our friends, relatives, neighbours, colleagues wander around dressed like dead people as if we are on the set of some horror film. Let’s inject the colour and hope of Jesus’ Gospel into people’s lives and free them from these grave clothes!

Looking forward to Jesus’ own resurrection, it will come as no surprise that the events of this miracle with Lazarus are also the Gospel’s highpoint of Jesus’ self-revelation to mankind that he is the Son of God, and point directly to his own crucifixion and resurrection.

We see that Jesus is fully human:

John 11:5 : “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” – he has love for his friends.

John 11:33 : “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also· weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” – he experiences human emotion of separation and sadness. The same that he would go on to experience in the separation from his Father on the cross as a result of our sin. Though he already knows the positive outcome, he is with Mary and Martha, and with us in our times of suffering.

John 11:35 : “Jesus wept.” – Arguably the shortest verse in the Bible, and demonstrates his· eternal love for his people. The Son of God in tears shows his oneness with us.

At the same time Jesus is fully divine:

John 11:4 : “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” – he is God’s Son working for God’s glory.

John 11:25-26 : “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” – human salvation is through him.

John 11:37 : “But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” – he is acknowledged for performing miracles John 11:44 : “The dead man came out” – he has power over death.

Jesus combines his immense human love with his awesome divine power to accomplish this life giving miracle with Lazarus to glorify his Father and strengthen our faith. This in turn sets in motion events towards his own death, as the Son of God and yet feeling all of the pain and suffering of man to make the ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross, and the ultimate miracle in his resurrection. Today, you are left with the same decision that the many first-hand witnesses had to make in Jesus’ day – kind of hard to contest when they saw Lazarus alive and wandering about after being raised from the dead! So what will you do with Jesus? Do you accept him as your Saviour and the Son of God, or do you reject him? This decision determines your destiny both for this life and the next.

Through my personal experiences of love and loss, and through 13 years of PRIESTHOOD I have learned the following truths:

1) Life is truly a gift. We’re probably all guilty at times of viewing time as an obstacle we need to hunker down and get through (e.g., “Isn’t it the end of the workday yet?” “I just need to get through this year…”) Death reminds us that life is precious, temporary and not to be taken for granted or begrudged. A daily practice of gratitude such as a meditation, affirmation or journal entry is a great way to stay positive and aligned with the awareness of the awesome gift of life.

2) You are not your resume. While our academic and career accomplishments bring knowledge and experiences, it is our choices that define our character and bring wisdom. When somebody one day gives your eulogy, it is doubtful your GPA (Grade Point Average) or workplace title will be cited. What will be remembered is how you made people feel, so be mindful of being present in your relationships and be your best self.

3) The present moment is where life occurs. We all ruminate about the past and worry about the future. Death reminds us that all we have for certain is right now and re-calibrates our values. Don’t waste your life second guessing your past or waiting to live your life. Live life passionately and fearlessly. Live today and every day to its fullest, brilliant magnificence. Laugh with abandon. (Even in the last weeks of my mother’s life, my brother and I experienced moments with her where we were overcome by fits of laughter together. I’m grateful we seized those precious opportunities for connection and hold those memories close to my heart.)

4) Loss can bring unexpected and enormous blessings. Hardships are opportunities for growth. Unimaginable losses are openings for the soul to receive healing love from new sources. In my practice and in my own journey, I have been awed and inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit. You never know how strong you are until you endure the unendurable. While it may be impossible to understand our losses, I believe all people come in our lives for a reason, setting our lives on the correct trajectory for our psycho-spiritual development. Notice the blessings you have received from your losses and be grateful for the ways those experiences have carved wisdom and depth into your being.

5) Love is the currency of life. In our culture, we place far too much value on achievement, money, possessions and beauty. Love is what matters and what is remembered. It is LOVE that connects us to one another and to the world around us, in life and beyond.

FORGIVE quickly, HUG dearly, LOVE truly, LAUGH whole-heartedly!

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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