Lent Sunday 5A - Lazarus is Raised

The five Sundays of Lent gives the picture of death and Resurrection in faith and in life.
1. The first two Sundays depict Jesus' own death and resurrection in daily life (Temptation/Desert/Rejection and Transfiguration / Mountain / Belovedness)
2. Then we have three Sundays with three scenarios of death and resurrection:
a. The Samaritan woman (sociological death to become the first missionary) - her faith in Jesus
b. The Blind man (Physical and spiritual death to growth in faith - he recognizes Jesus, the man, Jesus the prophet and then Jesus the Lord - daring missionary to proclaim the healing and the Lord despite threats of ostracism) - his faith
c. Lazarus - Physical death to actual resurrection - belovedness to Mary and Martha and to Jesus - their faith
d. Passion Sunday: Moving from another "mount" (donkey) to "crucify him". Life is a constant journey of baptism to the desert to the transfiguration to simple realities of our daily life and mission and occasional anniversaries and jubilees. That summarizes the Lenten season, I suppose.

-Tony Kayala, c.s.c.
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Opening Story: 1: A sign of resurrection:

As Vice-President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow.  She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed.  Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed in Communist Russia: she made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest.  There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all made a gesture suggesting that her husband had been wrong.  She hoped that there was another way of life – a life best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that this same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband and raise him up on the Day of the Judgment.  (Gary Thomas, Christian Times, October 3, 1994, p. 26.)

2. Look, he's Moving!:

Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: "What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?"
The first of the friends said: I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community. 
The second said: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow," said another. 
The third friend said, I would like them to say, "Look, he's moving!!" 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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Today, the 5th Sunday in Lent, we conclude the trilogy of instructions taken from the Gospel of John for Catechumens.  The gospel readings of the previous two Sundays focussed on water (Jn 4) and light (Jn 9). Today our focus is on life (Jn 11).  These three narratives, centring on the three primordial elements, are a build up to the Easter vigil which will also revolve around water, light and new life.  These three elements simply point to Christ, the source of life. (Fr. Sahaya Selvam, sdb)

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Gospel text : John 11:1-45

 Michel de Verteuil
General notes

As on last Sunday, we have a long passage in which several stories are interwoven. Jesus brings Lazarus out of the tomb; this is experienced as a liberation from bondage – “Unbind him and let him go free.” Identify with Lazarus from your experience. He symbolizes those who have been written off (by others but also by themselves) as dead – people? communities? a country or a civilization?
 
Textual comments
       Verses 3 and 36; 15; 39; 41 and 42 : Faced with the bondage of the tomb, Jesus is armed with love (verses 3 and 36), trust in the Father (vs. 15, 39, 41 and 42), and deep compassion (vs. 33, 35, 38). Enter into the dramatic confrontation in which these forces are victorious over death.
       Verses 25 – 26; 29 and 40 :  Jesus leads Martha (and to a lesser extent Mary) to a new insight into the power of faith over death by his teaching (vs. 25 and 26) and by commanding her to take the stone away (vs. 29 and 40). Recognize this journey from your own discovery of the power of faith over the forces of death and whatever keeps us in bondage. Where is Jesus teaching us this by word and example?
       Verses 9 and 10 :  Jesus returns to Judaea, the place of death, in perfect freedom, because of his own faith which is an inner light that keeps him from stumbling.
The disciples decide to accompany Jesus in his journey to death, which turns out to be a place of new life and freedom. When did you or your community take such a risk and experience a similar surprise?
       Since we are approaching Holy Week, interpret the story of the crucifixion of Jesus in the light of this story: there too, faith and love prove victorious over the forces of death and darkness.
 
Scripture reflection
 Lord, we remember today the times when we were like Lazarus in the tomb,
rejected, discouraged, in despair, feeling that life was not worth living,
overwhelmed by guilt so that we wanted to hide ourselves away from the world.
We thank you that you sent Jesus to us as we lay in the tomb –
a friend, a parent, uncle or aunt, some member of our church community –
and this Jesus loved us,
reached out to us in the tomb,
and in a loud, confident voice, called us to come out.
Thank you, Lord.
 “Christianity is not about opposing evil. It is a call to live in contrast to the prevailing mode of fragmentation and despair.”  ….Derrick Wilson, founder of the ecumenical Corrymeela Centre in Northern Ireland
Lord, there are many who are Lazarus in our country,
seeming alive but really in the tomb:
– those who are letting themselves be killed by alcohol or drugs,
– those who are cynical, who have no energy or enthusiasm,
– those who are lost in our own national history
We ask you to send them Jesus
– someone who will be a friend to them as Jesus was to Lazarus,
– will not be afraid to remove the stone that is closing them in,
– will ignore us when we protest that they are already four days in the grave
and will smell,
– will call them to come out, and set them free.
 How much better to carry relief to the poor rather than sending it.”  ….John Wesley 
 Lord, we thank you for Jesus’ great distress, for the tears he shed,
for the sighs that came straight from the heart.
We come to you today with our own grief,
our anger in the face of death, hatred, cynicism and despair.
Teach us, like Jesus, to leave ourselves in your hands,
remembering that you always hear our prayers,
if we only believe we will see your glory,
and through our faith we can call Lazarus from the tomb,
unbind him and set him free.
“All the doctrinal work of the Church is focused in only one direction, serving human beings in their every condition, in their every ailment, and in every way.   …. Pope Paul VI
 We pray for your Church, in our country and in the world,
– that we may be Jesus in the world,
– walking without stumbling because we are walking in your light;
– not afraid to go to Judaea even when we know we could be put to death there;
– that we may let ourselves be led to where Lazarus is lying in a tomb,
– so that we can share in the grief of the world and in its sighs.
Fill your Church with the love of Jesus for Lazarus,
and with his trust in you,
so that she may call him out of the tomb and set him free.
And Lord be merciful even when your Church sins and hurts it’s own people.
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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

Today we recall how Jesus was told of the death of his friend Lazarus and how he restored him to life. In this we have a ‘trailer’ of the whole message of Christian life: to believe in Jesus Christ is to be brought out of the tomb of death, freed from what binds us, and offered eternal life. Let us now reflect on our own need to be freed from sin, our own need to have burdens lifted, and our own need to begin life afresh. 
Homily notes
1. What does believing in the resurrection mean in our lives The temptation is to make an abstract statement about what one ‘believes’ will happen post mortem, but Christian faith is much more than this: it requires that we live as people who have been raised to new life and for whom death and the tomb are not the end. To believe in this sense is not to assent to a set of statements beyond what can be proven by some sort of empirical observation, but to adopt a lifestyle that embodies the assumption that God is calling each of us to new life. Christian believing is, therefore something that requires constant practice. This means that I cannot believe, in my life, and living and activity, that God is offering people new life, while being indifferent to human suffering, pain, poverty, a oppression.
2. Many people dwell at length on the difficulties of believing and wondering whether they can assert as true or false some statement such as ‘there is life after death’ or ‘there is a continuation of personal identity after death’ or whether or not there is a cycle of reincarnation’. But these speculations are quite irrelevant to the gospel- and its challenge of taking the difficulties of the lifestyle of resurrection do not attract the same attention as the abstract ‘difficulties of believing’. The gospel writers all believed that there was a caring and involved God, and and individual identity that survived death, and that there was an ‘afterlife’ – none of these beliefs are an issue in the gospels they are simply assumed. What they proclaim as new, and as revealed in Jesus, is that God offers a covenant of forgiveness that cannot be destroyed, and the invitation to follow the way of holiness is to live life after the pattern of that forgiving and constant divine love.
As we are loved, so we love;  as we are forgiven, so we forgive;  as we receive mercy, so we must be merciful, and as our lives are transformed, so we must help to transform the lives of others.
What we wish for from God on the heavenly plane, must be that which we transmit to others on our own human plane. So to believe in resurrection, and in the resurrection of Jesus, is to live such a life, of hope:
if I look forward to mercy and fullness of life from God, how can I not show mercy to someone in need;
if I look to the transformed life of heaven, how can I not want to transform the lives of those suffering on earth. Here lies a difficulty:  is it easier to engage in disputes over abstract beliefs;  or to engage in alms-giving and be really committed to a just world – perhaps one where one has to take a fall in one’s own standard of living so that others can have a better life? Believing in resurrection is not ‘yippee, I’m saved by Jesus’, but something very costly: I believe I am given new life; I must act on that as the fact in my life and convey new life to others.
3. On the other hand, we have to note how we often live within a pattern of attitudes that are equivalent to denying resurrection. The gospel today shows up several of the main forms of non-belief.
First, attitudes of despair in the face of human suffering deny resurrection. Here are some of the standard expressions of despair: ‘Why bother when it will make no difference,’ or ‘There is nothing to be done,’ or ‘It is too late.’ We must act with hope and one only needs hope when one is in the presence of adversity.
Second, attitudes of it ‘all being too much bother’ when faced with wickedness or falsehood or discrimination. There are always difficulties – ‘there will now be a smell’ – but until we confront them as a community which is strengthened by God’s grace, those difficulties will only grow. Not that there is any guarantee that in confronting them we will succeed or that we will not encounter suffering – our symbol is a cross – but that in confronting the difficulties we look forward to the final victory of the Christ.
Thirdly, attitudes of fatalism: the assumption that there is really no hope of things changing, and that there is no possibility of conversion. Lazarus is already in the tomb, dead and bound. Such an attitude of fatalism denies the forgiving nature of God, and denies that there can be goodness in his universe.
Cross and hope4. It is in confronting each day the suffering, darkness, and wickedness that can engulf us that we show that we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the one who has shattered all that oppresses us.
Belief in resurrection may seem one of the most abstract aspects of our religion, yet nothing makes such concrete and material demands on us.
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection
How much is our faith like Martha’s faith? During Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary after the death of Lazarus, Martha professed true faith in him. When Jesus asked her if she believed that he was the Resurrection and the Life, she acknowledged him as ‘the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world’ (Jn 11:27). Martha was one of the few people in the New Testament who expressed such a faith in Jesus before his own death and resurrection. Another person who expressed a similar faith was Peter (see Mt 16:16). Thus Martha’s faith anticipated a truly Easter faith.
Martha believed that physical death was not the end. Instead, physical death gave way to eternal life because, for her, Jesus Christ was (and is) the Lord of life. Martha looked forward to the resurrection of the body on the last day. Meanwhile she maintained a sure and certain hope that is characteristic of the basic Christian hope which is at the heart of our Christian faith.
At Easter, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Because he is risen, all of us will likewise be raised from the dead. We are all invited to share in his death and resurrection and, provided we are committed to the newness of the risen life that he offers us, we gain an everlasting place in heaven. This means that if we turn away from the sins that separate us from God — for example, irreligion, theft, adultery, disregard for parents, and drunkenness — we will gain heaven for eternity. This is the real meaning of Easter, and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is at the centre of our Christian faith.
Therefore, as Paul teaches (see 1 Cor 15:14), if Jesus is not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain and we are foolish people. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the proof that everything he said and did in his public ministry is true, bearing in mind that what he is portrayed as saying and doing in the gospel has been painted with ‘resurrection spectacles’. Sharing in his risen life demands that we remain faithful to his teaching and committed to his Church.
laz and resurrectionThe all-important question for us at Eastertide is: Do we sincerely believe, like Martha, that Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life? In other words, do we accept that he is raised from the dead and that he is the Lord of life? How can we have the sure and certain hope that was characteristic of her faith? Martha provides an inspiring example of Easter faith. Despite her obvious grief at the death of Lazarus, she put her faith completely in Christ. We are challenged to do the same.
How much is our faith like Martha’s faith? Let our prayer today be: Lord, our God, strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. May we learn from Martha’s example so that the message of Easter may change our lives and lead us to eternal life.
For meditation
I am the resurrection.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (Jn 11:25-26).
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Donal Neary SJ:  A human heart
When people read this they say they see that Jesus is a real hu­man being, son of God, God of heaven, man of the earth, weep­ing over a friend.
His was a human heart. He liked friends and he found a home and a safe place with them, over the hill and away from the mob. We might picture him there – the talk, the chat, the prayers, the love; meals with other friends who dropped in, times of prayer and silence.
The one who can share a laugh, eat a scone, have a drink or a cuppa. The one who’d give a wink at the sign of peace! Not always so serious, even about religion. There’s no such thing as a sad saint!
He is a good friend. Friendship gives new spirit.
When life is ending we will give thanks for friends, and regret the way we have drifted or hurt each other. Real friendship is when another’s thoughts and life become at least as or more im­portant than our own.
So the resurrection and the life is not just for after death. It is for now. We raise each other up in friendship and in love. In that is the grace of the Lord, himself a friend, for when we love, God lives in us.
Picture your friends and those you love and give thanks to God for each of them.Lord, help me to keep love and friendship alive in my life.
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From the Connections:

 

THE WORD:
As was the case in John’s account of the healing of the man born blind (last Sunday’s Gospel), the raising of Lazarus is more than just a sign of Jesus’ love and compassion.  Each of the seven miracles that John includes in his Gospel (“the Book of Signs,” as this section of John’s Gospel is titled) is dramatized by the evangelist to underscore some dimension of the redemptive nature of Jesus’ work.  Today’s Gospel, the climactic sign in John’s Gospel, is presented in five distinct, self-contained scenes: Jesus receiving the news of Lazarus’ death, the disciples’ protesting Jesus’ return to Judea, Martha’s pleading with Jesus, Jesus’ emotional arrival at the tomb, and the miraculous raising of Lazarus.
The raising of Lazarus is clearly intended by John to demonstrate Jesus’ power over life and death.  The raising of Lazarus plays like a rehearsal for the events next week’s liturgies will celebrate.
 
HOMILY THEMES:
As Jesus called out to Lazarus to be untied from the wrappings of the dead and to be free to live once again, so we are called to be free from those things that keep us too busy from loving and being loved.
Resurrection is an attitude, a perspective that finds hope in the hardest times and uncovers life among the ruined, that reveals light in the darkest night.  To each one of us belongs Jesus’ work of resurrection at Lazarus’s tomb: to help others free themselves from their tombs of dark hopelessness and the fear and sadness that bind them.
 
“A hole in the basket”
While many parishes struggle financially, one suburban parish’s weekly offerings are actually up.  And the pastor thinks he’s discovered the secret:
Start giving the money away.
It started when the pastor was asked to help some children in a nearby town who needed new clothes for school.  After discussing it with the staff and pastoral council, they decided to give a percentage of the profits from the parish’s biggest annual fundraiser to the cause.  The event turned out to be the parish’s most profitable ever.
The parish continued to make charitable outreach part of other parish fundraisers — with the same result. 
A spirit of generosity began to build in the parish.  People now regularly send in checks to be “given to someone in need.”  The parish staff has been able to quietly help with mortgage payments, tuition costs and house repairs.  Even though the privacy of those assisted is strictly protected, word of such help is getting out and more and more parishioners want to help.
And none of this has lessened the Sunday collection — in fact, the pastor writes, the Sunday offering “has increased every year, along with Mass attendance and parish enrollment.  I suppose it all has to do with trust.  Even with fewer dollars at their disposal, people want to participate in good works.  If it is evident that donations are used to meet real and urgent needs, people find a way to give even in pinched circumstances.  We all have to trust that God is continually at work, figuring things out, planting ideas, making connections, and passing the basket.
“A good way to increase the Sunday collection is to put a hole in the basket.”
[From “A Hole in the Basket: With Sunday Collections, You Get What You Give” by Father Nonomen, Commonweal, February 7, 2014.]
 
This parish’s realization of their ability to serve others despite their own pressing needs is a story of resurrection.  As he calls Lazarus from the grave, Jesus calls us out of the graves of self-centeredness, anger and fear that we dig for ourselves and “come out” from them into the light of compassion, reconciliation and peace.  The Christ who calls Lazarus from his tomb calls us out of the tombs in which we “bury” ourselves and to walk in the light of hope and possibility.  Resurrection is an attitude that finds hope in the hardest times and uncovers life among the devastated and broken; resurrection is a perspective that sees light even in the darkest night.  To each one of us belongs the work of resurrection: to bring the transformative, healing power of the Easter Christ into our own lives and the lives of those around us. 
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 ILLUSTRATIONS: 

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading we hear Ezekiel speaking words of hope to the Israelites. At first he may seem to speak of the resurrection, but he is actually predicting the renewed vitality of the whole people of Israel. In the passage before this, Ezekiel painted a picture of dry bones, the bones of warriors fallen in battle which remained unburied and littered some of the battlefields. For Ezekiel the dry bones are without life, like the graves mentioned in today's reading. He predicts that God's life-giving breath will restore his people, give them new life and resettle them in their land.

‘Death Be Not Proud’
John Gunther's book 'Death Be Not Proud' tells the story of his son's last year of life. At sixteen, when most young people are dreaming about their future, John Gunther's son was dying from a brain tumour. The boy's quiet courage in his encounter with death prompted critic Judith Crist to write: "His story is a glowing affirmation of the nobility of even the shortest of lives." Book reviewer Walter Duranty of the New York Herald Tribune said: "To read 'Death Be Not Proud' is to grasp the meaning of man's power to defy Death's hurt; to be filled with confidence and emptied of despair."
Albert Cylwicki in ‘The Word Resounds’

In today’s Gospel we are told that Jesus was informed by his friends Martha and Mary that their brother was seriously ill. Strangely, he delays his leaving for two days before he comes to their house. The whole story is full of symbolism and signs that point to a deeper reality. It is worth noting that Martha and Mary merely bring the plight of Lazarus to Jesus, without requesting or demanding that he come immediately. We see Jesus does not act according to human timetables; in human terms he is late but it all fits in, even death, in God's plan. When Jesus arrives on the scene Martha voices her regret but immediately she professes her faith. Jesus is quick to reassure her: "Your brother will live again." But for this miracle to happen Jesus needs her belief. "Do you believe this?" And Mary once again professes her faith: "Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus asked to be taken to the tomb of Lazarus and was greatly distressed and he wept so much that the Jews remarked: "See how much he loved him." In Jesus we see the care and concern of our God for all who suffer. John wrote his gospel for the Greeks, who believed that God was unmoved by the human condition. John paints a different portrait of a God who does not look upon the world stoically but is constantly involved in it, and interacts with it. The death of Lazarus does not mean that it is too late for Jesus to be his life. When Jesus reached the tomb he asks that the stone covering the tomb be taken away. For Jesus time, like death itself, is no barrier: "If you believe, you will see the glory of God." Before Jesus works the miracle He prays, He has full trust that His Father will listen to him. In a loud voice Jesus calls: "Lazarus come forth!" The miracle is that hearing the voice of the Son of God, Lazarus lives again. The same call of Jesus is addressed to all of us; He challenges and invites us to come alive again: "Come forth!" The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead proclaims that Jesus is the Lord of life; that Christian life begins when we hear his word and obey it. We may be dead in the midst of life and Jesus can bring us to life again! “Come forth!”

Keep the Fork!
There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, and what scriptures she would like read. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her. "There's one more thing," she said excitedly. "This is very important; I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand. That surprises you, doesn't it?" The young woman explained. "My grandmother once told me this story and, from there on, I have always tried to pass along its message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement. In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favourite part because I knew that something better was coming...like velvety chocolate cake or apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder ‘What's with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork ... the best is yet to come.’" The pastor's eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman good-bye. He knew that the young woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She knew that something better was coming. At the funeral people were walking by the young woman's casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the pastor heard the question "What's with the fork?" And over and over he smiled. During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.

Old Rattle Bones
Many years ago there was a man, crippled and poor, who was cruelly named “Old Rattle Bones” by a group of boys in the neighbourhood. The leader of the group, Freddie, was worried one day when he saw the crippled man heading right towards his home. Because his friends were with him, the boy attempted to hide his anxiety by taunting. “Go on, Old Rattle Bones,” he shouted, “see if I care if you talk to my mother.” The man looked at Freddie sadly as he passed the group of boys and said, “You would not be calling me such names if you knew what caused my crippled condition.” He continues along the street arriving at Freddie’s home, whereupon he was warmly welcomed by Freddie’s mother. She called for her son to come in also. While the mother brought out a pot of tea, the man turned to the boy and told him a story. “Years ago on the first day of spring, a young mother took a baby outdoors for a carriage ride along the river. Stooping to pick a flower, she briefly let go of the handle; suddenly the carriage lurched forward, careening down the hill. Before she could catch up with the carriage, it had plunged into the river. I was sitting on a nearby bench and heard her scream. I ran after the buggy and jumped into the river. After a difficult struggle, I managed to get the baby safely back to shore. I left before anyone could ask my name. But you see the river water was very cold, and it aggravated my rheumatism. Now ten years later, I can scarcely hobble along. For you see Freddie, that baby was you.” Freddie hung his head in shame and began to cry. “Thank you for saving me,” he wept. “Can you ever forgive me for calling you ‘Old Rattle Bones’? I didn’t know who you were!”
Brian Cavanaugh in ‘Sowers Seeds of Christian Family Values’

Giving up hope until
A pastor tells of the experience of a young woman at a local children’s hospital. She was asked by a teacher from the church to tutor a boy with some school work while he was in hospital. The woman didn’t realize until she got to the hospital that the boy was in a burns unit, in considerable pain and barely able to respond. She tried to tutor him, stumbling through the English lesson, ashamed of putting him through such a senseless exercise. The next day when she returned to the hospital, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to the boy?” Before she could finish apologizing, the nurse interrupted her: “You don’t understand. His entire attitude has changed. It’s as though he has decided to live!” A few weeks later, the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until this young woman arrived. With joyful tears he explained, “They wouldn’t send a tutor to work on nouns and verbs with a dying boy, would they? –Sometimes we are invited into people’s lives and into places and events that, on the surface, have no meaning or purpose to us. We ask ourselves, what are we doing here? What purpose do we have here? Often we define ourselves only by what we can see or understand; we forget that we are part of something larger than ourselves.
Anonymous

Resurrection
The interviewer asked Joseph of Arimathea, “Now the grave you lent is yours again. What are you planning to do with it?” Joseph took a long look at him, and then confided. “When I heard that he had risen, naturally I raced to the tomb. He was not there. He had given my tomb back to me. So what I did after that was: I placed a comfortable bench under the trees just opposite the opening of the tomb. In the evening as the sun is going down, I go and sit there and think to myself, Jesus of Nazareth has slept in this tomb and God raised him from death. Joseph of Arimathea will also lie in this tomb, and what will God do with him?’ Jesus had said, ‘I live and you shall live’. I can depend on that word.”
Hans-Georg Lubkoll


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From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1) Carrying a dead soul in a living body? 

In Virgil, there is an account of an ancient king, who was so unnaturally cruel in his punishments that he used to chain a dead man to a living criminal.  It was impossible for the poor wretch to separate himself from his disgusting burden.  The carcass was bound fast to his body -- its hands to his hands; its face to his face; the entire dead body to his living body.  Then he was put into a dungeon to die suffocated by the foul emissions of the stinking dead body.  Many suppose that it was in reference to this that Paul cried out: "O wretched man that I am!"  Today’s readings invite us to turn away from sin, approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation and revive the dead soul we are carrying within our body,  thus becoming  eligible for the glorious resurrection Jesus promised to believers at the tomb of Lazarus. 

2) Good news – bad news joke:

John and Jim were professional players with the Atlanta Braves who lived and breathed baseball. These guys breathed, discussed, ate, and slept baseball. One of their big concerns was whether there would be baseball in heaven. They loved baseball so much that they were not sure at all they wanted to spend eternity in heaven unless they could play baseball. They had an agreement that the first one who died would somehow get a message back to earth, letting the other know whether baseball was in heaven or not. Well, it happened. John died, and Jim grieved. He grieved for days - deeply saddened over his friend John’s death. About two weeks went by, and then it happened. Jim was awakened in the middle of the night by the calling of his name, “Jim, Jim, Jim, wake up! This is John.” “John, where are you?” “I’m in heaven - and I have some good news and bad news. It’s exciting, Jim. We do have baseball in heaven. It’s great. We play every day and there are marvelous teams, and tough, exciting competition.” “That’s great,” said Jim. “But what’s the bad news?” “Well,” said John, “You are scheduled to pitch next Tuesday.”

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From Sermons.com:

Good News all around us and I have good news for you: God has a resurrection for you! He wants to bring you out into the light again. He wants to bring you out of that tomb of oppression and give you a new start. And listen! He has the power to do it. He can bring you back to life.

This powerful story in John 11 speaks to this. Remember it with me. Mary and Martha who live in Bethany are some of Jesus' closest friends... They send word to him that their brother, whose name is Lazarus, is desperately ill. "Please come. We need your help. Hurry. He is sinking fast." But by the time Jesus gets there, Lazarus has died... and has been in his grave for four days. Mary and Martha come out to meet Jesus and they express their grief: "He's gone. We've lost him. O Lord, if only you have been here, our brother would not have died." 

The family and friends have gathered and in their deep sorrow, they begin to weep over the loss of their loved one, Lazarus. The heart of Jesus goes out to them... and Jesus weeps with them. He loved Lazarus, too... and he loves them... and he shares their pain. Jesus goes out to the cave-like tomb and he says to them: "Roll back the stone!" Martha, always the realist and ever ready to speak out, protests: "But Lord, we can't do that. He has been in the grave for 4 days. By now there will be a terrible odor." Jesus says to her: "Martha, only believe and you will see the power of God." 

So they roll the stone away... and Jesus cries out in a loud voice: "Lazarus, come forth!" And incredibly, miraculously, amazingly, before their very eyes... Lazarus is resurrected! He comes out of the tomb. He still has on his grave clothes. His head and feet are still wrapped with mummy-like bandages. Jesus then turns to the friends and family and says to them, "Unbind him and let him go. Unwrap him and set him free." 

In this graphic and dramatic story, three awesome lessons jump out at us. Three great truths emerge which can be so helpful to us today. Let me list them for us: Jesus wept with those he loved and he still does. Jesus raised people up and he still does. Jesus included others in the healing process... and he still does...
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Springtime is the season of uncontained optimism.  

As the days grow longer, and the sun grows stronger, it feels time to do something outrageous. We dig into the earth, carefully plow and pulverize hard clods into fine loam. We remove the weeds and grasses. We add extra nutrients to enrich the prepared soil. Then into that lush, fertile mixture we gently deposit . . . dried up, shriveled, little (sometimes downright tiny), seemingly completely dead bits of matter. We call them "seeds." 

Nothing looks less "lively" than a seed. The tiniest ones--lettuces, carrots, radishes--are so minuscule that planting them is like putting into the soil grains of coarse black pepper. Corn and beans "look" like corn kernels and soup beans. Well, they look like corn kernels and beans that have been lost on the floor of your pantry for six months or so, rejected even by the mice. Definitely NOT "good eats." And yet we joyfully plunge these desiccated crumbs into the soil we have sweated over, completely confident that something will come out of our efforts.  

Springtime is the season of belief. Every spring we believe in the power of the life that lives within those apparently dead seed husks. We believe that just a few handfuls of seeds can produce a glorious new crop to nourish our lives and feed our families.

Of course, bringing that potential crop to full fruition takes a lot more than simply dropping seeds into the ground and walking away. As every backyard gardener or full-time farmer knows, once you put those babies into the soil you are in a relationship with that garden, with those fields, with the weather. Seeds require constant nurturing - watering, weeding, protection from predators, large and small. New life comes from within the seed. But ensuring the continuation of that potential new life comes from an ongoing relationship with that life, our commitment to doing all we can to ensure that every single seed becomes part of yet another new harvest. 

This week's epistle text is Paul's springtime seed catalog... 
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Giving Thanks for Our Trouble 

Ours is a God who does not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted and does not hide his face from them." There is always a sense in which great living is found in the midst of suffering and tears. 

An old Yiddish folk story tells of a well-to-do gentleman of leisured much interested in the Hebrew Scriptures. He visited a wise rabbi to ask a question. He said: "I think I grasp the sense and meaning of these writings except for one thing. I cannot understand how we can be expected to give God thanks for our troubles." The rabbi knew instantly that he could not explain this with mere words. He said to the gentleman: "If you want to understand this, you will have to visit Isaac the water-carrier." The gentleman was mystified by this, but knowing the rabbi to be wise, crossed to a poor section of the settlement and came upon Isaac the water-carrier, an old man who had been engaged in mean, lowly, backbreaking labor for some fifty years. 

The gentleman explained the reason for his visit. Isaac paused from his labors. Finally, after several minutes of silence, looking baffled, he spoke: "I know that the rabbi is the wisest of men. But I cannot understand why he would send you to me with that question. I can't answer it because I've had nothing but wonderful things happen to me. I thank God every morning and night for all his many blessings on me and my family." 

It is true, is it not? The pure in heart see God. The humble in spirit know Christ's joy and enter into God's glory. "For I consider," writes Paul, "that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
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 Joy Unbounded, Glory Fulfilled

 Pastor/Bishop Kenneth Ulmer (Inglewood, California) envisions the animating, life-fulfilling power of the Holy Spirit as like the transformation that comes over the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon figures as they're inflated. Without any air these huge balloons lay flat on the floor, limp, and featureless figures. But when the wind starts whipping up inside those balloons, they begin to rise, stand up, and stand tall. They become individuals, people and creatures that we recognize and love. Once on the parade route, these balloons take on even more life, for they are animated not just by the air within them, but by the winds that buffet and bolster them down the street. 

In today's gospel text, Jesus doesn't appear before Martha and Mary - who are in agony over the death of their brother Lazarus - just to bring them a casserole. Jesus doesn't cluck his tongue and concede that Lazarus' death is a tragedy. 

Jesus goes to his best friend's tomb and calls out, "Lazarus, come forth!" As experienced by Ezekiel and the psalmist, once again the animating spirit of God moves with power and precision, and brings a dead man walking right out of his tomb! This is what God settles for. Miracle, rebirth, deliverance from the pit, and eternal redemption. God doesn't define winning as not losing. God doesn't settle for anything less than joy unbounded, and glory filled dreams fulfilled. 

Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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The Way Out 

Most everyone has worked one of those mazes where you follow the right path to find your way out. As you move your pencil through the maze you keep running into dead ends until you find the one path that sets you free.

Life is a lot like living in a maze. We continue to take wrong turns which lead nowhere and often retrace our steps until we can find our way. It can be very frustrating. Sometimes we never do find our way out. Those are the times we are stuck and feel like a prisoner with no escape.

Today I want to help set you free. I believe that no matter how difficult the maze you live in may seem, there is always a way out. Not even death can stand in the way of your life's journey.
 

Keith Wagner, Only One Way Out
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 The Third Day 

It was a popular belief that soul and body were finally separated after 3 days -- with no hope of resuscitation. Lazarus' resurrection thus points to Jesus' resurrection. The event forces decision on belief or disbelief in Jesus; his enemies understand that the die is cast. It is this decisiveness for faith, in a miracle that surpasses any possibility of rational explanation, that gives the incident its primary dramatic tension.  

Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary: John, p. 720
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Sunday's A Comin' 

Tony Campolo tells the story of a black Baptist preacher in the inner city of Philadelphia who preached a sermon Tony says he'll never forget. Tony preached first. He was "hot," so "hot" he says, that he even stopped and listened to himself. He sat down and said to his pastor: "Now see if you can top that one!" 

"Son," said the black pastor, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." For an hour and a half the pastor repeated these words over and over again: "It's Friday, but Sunday's a comin'."

"I've never heard anything like it," Tony said. "He just kept saying it. The congregation was spellbound by the power of it." 

"It's Friday. Mary, Jesus' mother is crying her eyes out. That's her son up there on the cross. He's dying the agonizing death of crucifixion as a criminal. But it's only Friday," the preacher said. "Sunday's a comin'.

"The apostles were really down and out. Jesus, their leader, was being killed by evil men. But it was only Friday. Sunday is a comin'.

"The Devil thought he had won. 'You thought you could outwit me,' he said, 'but I've got you now.' But it was only Friday. Sunday is a comin'."

"He went on like that for 30 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour. Each time he said, 'It's Friday,' the crowd began to respond, 'but Sunday's comin'. An hour and 15 minutes.

"It's Friday and evil has triumphed over good. Jesus is dying up there on the cross. The world is turned upside down. This shouldn't happen. But it's only Friday. Sunday's a comin'.

"It's Friday. But Sunday is comin'. Mary Magdalene was out of her mind with grief. Her Lord was being killed. Jesus had turned her life from sin to grace. Now he was dead. But it's only Friday. Sunday is a comin'."

The place was rocking. For an hour and a half. "Friday! But Sunday is a comin'. Friday. But Sunday is a comin'. 

"The sisters and the brothers are suffering. It just isn't fair...all they have to go through, but it's only Friday. Sunday is comin'."

"I was exhausted," Tony said. "It was the best sermon I've ever heard. The old preacher was saying it and the people were with him. 'It's Friday, but Sunday is a comin'. It was powerful," Tony said. "It was personal."

Ronald J. Lavin, I Am the Resurrection and the Life, www.Sermons.com
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I Will Be More Alive

 One of my favorite quotations, one I have used over and over again at funerals, comes from that great evangelist of the last century, Dwight L. Moody. Moody said, "One day you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead. Well, don't believe a word of it. I will have gone up higher, that's all. Out of this old clay tenement into a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And at that moment, I will be more alive than I have ever been."

David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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Run the Film in Reverse

When I was a child I used to love walking into Miss Hammond's 4th grade classroom to discover the shades drawn and a 16 mm projector set up facing the pull-down screen. This was more than the joy of knowing I wouldn't be asked to answer questions, read aloud, or work out problems on the black-board. For when there was time following the movie, rather than rewind the film, Miss Hammond would show the picture in reverse. We laughed hysterically at the antics produced on the screen: things which had disintegrated suddenly were reconstituted, buildings shaken to pieces by earthquakes took previous shape before our eyes, people who had been knocked to the ground suddenly sprang back to life. That is what these lessons are about today -- God's power to run the film in reverse, to reverse the initiatives of infinitude, to overcome the gravity of life, to address a problem in life which you and I cannot solve.

Fred Anderson, A Problem You Cannot Solve