Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Psalm 130; Roman 8:8-11; John 11:1-45
In the midst of the uncertainties and fears surrounding the outbreak of COVID-19, I have had to deal with a lot of questions from parishioners. Their questions challenged my faith as well. People are asking why the churches should be closed. Where is God our refuge? Has God become impotent? Some wrote some long notes ascribing the plague to the sins the world has committed and the secularity the church is gradually embracing. I tried to re-assess one of my favourite quotes that the church is like a hospital for the broken and the diminish not a monastery of the redeemed. Now that we feel broken and diminished, why is the church shut in our faces? The frustration and pain of not being able to provide a convincing answer to all provoked me to try to come up with some answers, no matter how limp the explanation may be. I had to rush to my library to pick up a copy of Philip Yancy’s book, “Where is God When It Hurts?”.
I stumbled on a quote by C. S. Lewis. He said, “pain, the megaphone of God … whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”. Just as we feel in our bodies, “suffering on this earth is a scream to all of us that something is wrong. It halts us in our tracks and forces us consider other values.” (Philip Yancy). “Faith in God offers no insurance against tragedy. Nor does it offer insurance against feelings of doubt and betrayal.” We are told that Jesus wept. God enters into the depth of our pain and feels with us. God is with us in this situation as He did not spare His only Son the death on the cross. But, death did not have the final say. There was life after death and resurrection is what we aspire to.
Our first reading today should be situated within the historical context of the exile of the people of Israel in Babylon. They considered themselves dead that is why the reading speaks of the grave. The expression, “I am going to open your tombs; I shall bring you out of your tombs” offers us hope. This follows the vision of Ezekiel of the dry bones. To a people who have been crushed, deported, demoralised, dejected, Ezekiel announces the idea of the resurrection. The Spirit of God, the creator and liberator in Genesis 1:2, will give life to His people. The onslaught of this pandemic creates in us the feeling of being abandoned, but God offers us hope that we shall come out of this situation stronger, wiser, reformed and redeemed. In our desperation to hear something from God, we cry out from the depths of our hearts in the words of Psalm 130. The Lord will not abandon because according to the Psalm, if the Lord should mark our guilt, none of us would survive. We patiently wait for God’s mercy to redeem us from all our iniquity. In the words of St. Paul to the Romans today, we shall allow the Spirit of God within us to direct our lives. We are constantly battling between the Spirit and the flesh. The Spirit of God is love.
We focus on life in our Gospel today. In John 11:25, Jesus tells us that he is the resurrection and life. In John 10:10, he told us that he has come that we may have life and have it abundantly. How do we actualise the life promised by Jesus in the midst of Corona Virus? We can do that within the context of grace, responsibility and community.
Grace: Martha and Mary were like, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:21,32). They failed to acknowledge the presence of Jesus at that moment. That moment is a moment of grace. They were focussed on what could have been not on what is. God is “I AM”. He continues to bring new life. Has humanity moved away from the presence of God? God was here; God is here; and God will always be with us. As our churches are being close, this is a grace moment to experience God’s presence more intimately, creatively and personally.
Responsibility: Jesus promise of new life can only be relevant if we are ready to take personal responsibility to his call. What would Jesus encourage us to do within this context? Jesus cried out to Lazarus to come out. Lazarus readily responded. Lazarus did not get comfortable in the darkness of the grave. Lazarus responded to life. If Lazarus had not responded, Jesus’ work would have been challenged. We are all called to take responsibility for our actions and choices in limiting the spread of the virus. We are called to be disciplined. We must not be irresponsible in our words and actions so that we do not affect other people adversely. We need to come out of our tomb of complacency and arrogance.
Community: The community has a role to play in cooperating with God’s desire for us to have a new life. Jesus could have magically moved the stone at the mouth of the grave, but he requested the crowd to “take away the stone” (Jn 11:39). Again, when Lazarus came out with his hands and feet bound, Jesus said to them, “untie him and let him go” (Jn 11:44). The believing community around the individual plays a very important role. This community could be government agencies, health providers, people who are suffering economically, and people taking risks to offer essential services. God needs our collaboration in this trying time to see to the end of this pandemic. People who are poor and sick need our help and our prayers.
We gradually enter into the Holy Week. I pray that we may recognise the presence of Jesus in our midst, respond to his call to life and assist as a community of faith. May we live our lives as though God is truly in control because it is in Him we live, it is in Him we move; it is in Him we have our being. There is a saying in my language, that the destruction of the king’s house is a call for an improved and new building. May the aftermath of this pandemic lead us to new life in Christ.