by Fr. Gerard Jonas
29 March 2020
Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45
In the midst of lockdowns and quarantines to contain the covid-19 pandemic, I suppose the sweetest words anyone would like to hear is what the Lord shouts out: “Come out!” Truly, that’s good news for those already fed up with being locked in, for those who feel so unfree as though locked up and for those who are locked out from places and activities they already miss.
The raising of Lazarus is the 7th sign in the Gospel according to John that shows who Jesus is, who declares, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” In Baptism we have been initiated into the life of Christ, though we still await the fullness of life in God at the end of time. In raising Lazarus, Jesus manifests his divine power over evil, even death itself, a prefiguration of his own glorious resurrection. Lazarus was resuscitated, not yet resurrected. He came back to his former earthly, not yet the glorious, life.
In all our daily struggles, especially now with the coronavirus pandemic, we get overwhelmed and also seem to die. Even from this, the Lord commands us to “Come out!” Nowadays, many do, not from physical death but from self-centeredness and other selfish attitudes. Stories abound of generosity and compassion, not only of individual persons but of institutions and nations: numerous supplies, from face masks to ventilators, continue to change hands. Selfless service comes to the fore to some heroic degree. Not only medical frontliners such as doctors and nurses, but also priests and have actually succumbed while ministering to the sick.
“Lord, had you been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha and Mary cry in distress and regret. We too wish the present health crisis has not befallen us, among other woes. But inevitably, we also see its palpable so-called collateral benefits. Yes, we observe how the earth heals itself of air pollution with the absence of heavy emissions from mobile and factory machines. Flora and fauna take respite from human disturbance, especially the endangered species in their seasonal hatching. Lessened outdoor interaction has lessened criminality but enhanced domestic interaction and bonding. There is flourishing of human creativity and ingenuity and even the rise of religiosity and spirituality within the household and beyond through social media, as people are drawn to spend more time with God in praying for and with one another. With social distancing, all the more people feel the need connected beyond physical presence. Of course, we cannot minimize the collateral damage to our economy among others. Those whose loved ones had already passed away in the pandemic may not have them come back to life as Lazarus did. But there are other rejuvenations we experience now in ourselves.
“Come out!” The Lord beckons us to come out from what binds us. In a historic first, Pope Francis stood alone in vast Saint Peter’s Square last Friday to bless the people around the world suffering under the coronavirus pandemic, urging them to ease their fears through faith. The hour had come to “reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering,” he said.
“We have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste,” said Pope Francis in his homily.
“We were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.”
Today is not “the time of your judgment,” the Pope clarified, but rather a time for people to focus on the important, “a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”
As Ezekiel prophesied, graves are opened and we are called to newness of life. Some say to a better version of ourselves, but the Trappist Thomas Merton, the Marist Brother Don Bisson and other spiritual writers say that the real challenge is to emerge into one’s true self before God and others, limitations and weaknesses notwithstanding. Christ rejuvenates His life in us as Kingdom values are strengthened. He exhorts us to leave the stench of sinfulness and counter-Kingdom values. God is glorified not only in our resurrection at the end of time, but even now as we grow in our life in Christ.
“Come out!” the Lord continues to cry out to us. He beckons us to be with Him as He is with us, one with us even unto death. We are drawn to a reality check and we realize the reality of death, the stench of death, but more so with the reality of life with Christ, the reality of spiritual connectedness with Him and with others. May we continue to realize and live by who God is for us, with our mother Mary to guide and intercede for us.
Let us all in God’s grace heed Christ’s call to come forth and emerge from amidst all the uncertainties of our time to be with Him, and as St Benedict quoting St Paul put it, “that in all things, God may be glorified.”