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Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

 

All three readings today direct us to the mystery of resurrection and eternal life.  Easter is only two weeks away.

 

1. Ezekiel 37, 12-14

  • God spoke through Ezekiel’s voice centuries ago.  The prophet spoke these words of hope before they were written down.  And I am called to speak them today.
  • Are these words of encouragement?  God does not “encourage,” God gives life where there is no life!  I will make you rise.  Words of consolation?  God does not “console” here, God gives marching orders!  “I call you my people!”  Impossible?  That defines the true prophet.  And that defines the lector.  When I stop feeling how incredible, how impossible, how absurd are these visions and stories I retell in the assembly, I have lost the sense of my ministry to them.
  • How does God speak now to a people far away from home, beginning to die in a strange land?  That defines the listeners of the prophet in Babylon.  And it may define half of those listening to me.  No matter: whether they are in the promised land or far from home, Jews or Gentiles, they are always my people. 
  • The central words are God’s affirmation of Israel: O my people!  And I will challenge myself to stretch my delivery of these three words, hanging on like the rodeo rider for a full 8 seconds, until this people today knows in its very guts that God is present and stands by them.
  • The passage is short, so I will take a minute and stretch it into eternity!  God always speaks from the Sabbath rest: slowly and deliberately and definitively.  That means time for living things to blossom, not human sound byte time. 
  • And I will look out upon this assembly, on those I know and do not know, the regulars and the newcomers, and especially on the candidates for initiation, saying with my look that, yes, you and I know that this is impossible and still we will affirm it together.  We are not lost!  I will open your graves, have you rise from them and bring you back. 
  • Yes, Ezekiel wrote this a long time ago and still it can move us twenty-five centuries later.  I have promised, and I will do it.  If God said it, it will be so.  We will rise.  Just as Lazarus did, just as Jesus did, on an Easter day like the one that is just around the corner.

 

2. Romans 8, 8-11

  • Paul speaks here in a short space about life in the spirit, not just once but three times.  You are in the Spirit.  This is how we belong to Christ: having the Spirit of Christ. 
  • Paul seems to contradict himself: is the body dead or alive?  But he does not.  Everything is possible, because God raised Jesus from the dead.  Paul says that twice and he means it: everything is now possible for the Romans and for us.  God will give life to your mortal bodies also.  It is possible as long as we belong to Christ. 
  • I will take the assembly from the ways of the flesh into the Spirit of God who dwells in you.  Our candidates present today will have less reason to ask about the Spirit of God, as they become more aware of its presence because of righteousness.
  • Central point: The Spirit does not come by our invoking it.  Indeed, it does not really come and go, it means to dwell in us.  It wants to be with us always.
  • Message for our assembly: The same Spirit is alive in us today, and we are responsible for this with the ways we lead our lives.
  • I will challenge myself: To speak these three phrases of dwelling with greater intensity, as the apostle takes us from a fuller life on earth to eternal life: life to your mortal bodies.  I want to leave my listeners longing for that Spirit, longing to be with the risen Christ.

 

Gospel.  John 11, 1-45

  • In most of the Gospel accounts, even in the infancy of Jesus, we hear of death threats.  The Lazarus story is no exception.  I will maintain the sharp edge of the tension, because John put it there -- he intended it to be there -- but especially because Jesus wants us to get beyond this, to transcend it, by following him and facing the danger head-on with him.
  • There are two story lines tied inextricably to each other.  On the one hand Jesus acts decisively, though the people around him think he is acting strangely.  He waits two days, then he is ready to go to Jerusalem.  He speaks in riddles: Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.  He weeps, he groans, he calls a dead and decomposing man to come out!  I will affirm all his actions without comment. 
  • And Jesus acts against a backdrop of ordinary events.  The disciples don’t want to go back to a dangerous place.  The family of Lazarus is mourning their dead brother.  The eyes and ears of the authorities are alert for signs of their own.
  • Jesus breaks through the apparent finality of events in a way that makes little sense to his disciples (You’re going back there?), to Mary (If you had been here…), and to her sister Martha (There will be a foul odor).  But he knows just what he is doing, and I will point out his logic in the face of the ordinary events.
  • Central point or climax: Jesus is resurrection and life.  He turns our beliefs upside down: what dies will live and what lives in faith will never die!  This forms the center of our faith in the living Christ, the faith that our candidates for initiation want to adopt as their own.  And he wants an answer: Do you believe?
  • Primary message for our assembly: Martha’s act of faith in Jesus.  I will speak for everyone who has ever been baptized, for our assembly and those among us who will soon be baptized:  Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah. 
  • A second message that we hear early in the story: Thomas said it well and I want him to speak for us all:  Go with Jesus.  Like Thomas we may be naïve about the consequences, but we will not be left behind.
  • I will challenge myself: to wrap myself in the faith of two thousand years, as I appeal to the faith of our assembly today, that even though we die we shall live.  And as I speak the words they will not sound like a solemn Hollywood voice-over but as a challenge, a wake-up call to those with little faith.  And then I will stand aside and let our homilist finish the good work!

Word to Eucharist: All of us who approach the table have been called to a life of purpose.  Jesus groans after us as he groaned for his dear friend.  Do we hear him?  And do we groan for each other?

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