5th Sunday of Lent Year A

     

     I’m not sure about you, but this Lent seems to be flying by and it is hard for me to believe that we are only one week away from Holy Week where we are invited to follow after Christ as He takes the last steps of His saving mission on earth. Next Sunday we will gather at the entrance to the Church and begin our Holy Week by walking with Jesus on His way into the holy city of Jerusalem. During Holy Week, we will visit the Upper Room for the Passover feast where Jesus takes bread and wine and declares it to be His Body and Blood, which will be poured out for us. The next day, we will find ourselves kneeling at the foot of the cross where that blood is physically poured out for us and finally we will arrive at Easter where we will stand in awe and wonder at the empty tomb.

     As we reach the final stretch of Lent, today’s Gospel account of the raising of Lazarus prefigures what we will celebrate during Holy Week and invites us to enter into that journey of Holy Week, through which Jesus unties us and sets us free. You see we are Lazarus. Our sin, which so often takes over control of our lives and holds us prisoners, and our suffering, which is the result of the human condition that can so easily lead to despair and hopelessness, binds us much in the same way that death bound Lazarus. Like Lazarus, before Jesus came, ultimately our sin and suffering only leads to a death where there is no hope. The good news is that just as Jesus unbinds Lazarus and raises him from the dead, He desires to set us free and so while we can’t avoid sin and suffering in this world, as long as we have faith, we have hope.

     Just as Jesus intervenes with Lazarus and orders the stone to be rolled back, Jesus orders the doorway to our heart to be opened. Just as He didn’t turn away from the smell of death emanating from Lazarus’ tomb, our own sinfulness and suffering do not scare Jesus away from our hearts. No, for next week we will celebrate the truth that He came to be united with His people, to bring us hope, forgiveness, new life and ultimately to remove the darkness of sin so that you and I can have eternal life. Friends, Jesus reminds us over and over that “Christian holiness does not mean being sinless, but rather it means struggling not to give in and always getting up after every fall.”[1]

     As we gather next Sunday to begin the holiest week of the year, we are invited to bring all of those things which bind us and nail them to the cross, so that when we gather on Easter and notice the empty tomb, we will realize that Jesus has unbound us and raised us up. After all the celebration of Easter reminds us that no matter how many setbacks we may face in this life, if we welcome Jesus into our lives, there is no ultimate defeat.

     Certainly, Jesus does not deliver us from dying. Dying is after all part of the human condition that Jesus shared in, but He does deliver us from death. For Jesus tells us that He is the resurrection and the life and whoever believes in Him, even in death will live. While on the surface this claim of Jesus Christ makes no sense, but when we view the world through the lens of faith we come to understand that death is not the end, it is rather a transition from this life into the life that Jesus has prepared for each of us. “Death is redemption, a blessing, because in it this unrefined existence, which is prone to sin and so ill disposed, is renovated and reworked into a new one.”[2] In order to view the world through this lens of faith, we need to be prepared to journey with Christ to the cross. For faith means “communion with the cross, and only on the cross does faith find its highest fulfillment.”[3]

     My friends, as the holiest days of the year come upon us, are we prepared to journey with our Lord to the cross in order to find salvation? What are those areas where we still need to roll the stone back and allow Christ into so that we may rise with Him on Easter Sunday? If we really want to see Jesus we will run to the cross where we will see that our Lord takes the sufferings we face in this world, either those brought on by the world, or those freely undertaken by our fasting, penances and almsgiving and uses them to give us opportunities to participate with His grace in our own salvation and the salvation of others in the Church. It is only because we suffer that we can hold out hope for eternal life, for in suffering we imitate God. It was Christ’s suffering that leads to His resurrection. Why should it be any different for us? Christ freely chose to suffer for us, now we must freely choose to do the same. Will you journey with him to the cross so that you can rise with Him to eternal life?

 

[1] Karol Wojtyla. The Meaning of Vocation. United States: Scepter Publishers, 1997. Pg 10

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg. 252.

[3] Pope John Paul II. Encyclical Letter Mary: God’s Yes to Man Introduction by Cardinal Ratzinger and Commentary by Balthasar. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988. Pg. 27.

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