You Are the One Who is Coming into the World – Pastor’s Reflection (March 29, 2020)
Those fortunate enough to hear Mass on this Sunday will encounter another long gospel reading, 44 verses of John, chapter 11. After following the Woman of Samaria into the life of faith, and receiving enlightenment alongside the Man Born Blind, the congregant will share with Mary, Martha, and Jesus, the anguish that death causes, and the longing to recover lost time and lost people. Jesus though will reveal the soul’s desire for life utterly beyond the familiar. We of course cannot congregate, but we can read or hear this Gospel and let it challenge us at this unforeseeable and incomprehensible moment in time.
When his friend Lazarus falls ill, Jesus waits two days before setting out to see him. By the time he arrives, Lazarus has died. He meets the dead man’s sisters separately but each greets him with the same words; “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (Vs. 21 and 32) “If only” points longingly to the way things were. All of a sudden a death, or a move, or a breakup, or a virus, has left me exiled from the familiar, and but for this I could be happy right now. Mary and Martha desired to preserve their brother, and their whole status quo ante. With his own tears Jesus acknowledges this very human longing, but he declines to grant it.
Yes, he restores Lazarus to his sisters, but he does not erase the memory of his dying for either of them, and who would be the same after experiencing, or witnessing, death and resuscitation? Indeed Jesus makes this moment lead to a new depth of believing. Under an action of the Holy Spirit Martha moves from her wistful and reproachful “if only” to confessing, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” (V. 27). In the end Jesus is not a savior for resuscitation but for resurrection, not for merely surviving the travails of human life but for eternal thriving of humanity in the presence of God.
Martha’s reorientation is what the Church proposes to our elect in the Third Scrutiny. This year we hope they can take up the Gospel of John and let the Holy Spirit scrutinize their hearts by means of this story of Lazarus. Perhaps we may do it with them in a time that will surely elicit reorientation from us. Here are the prayers of the Third Scrutiny:
Father of life and God not of the dead but of the living, you sent your Son to proclaim life, to snatch us from the realm of death, and to lead us to the resurrection. Free these elect from the death-dealing power of the spirit of evil, so that they may bear witness to their new life in the risen Christ, for he lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Here the celebrant would lay hands on the elect:
Lord Jesus, by raising Lazarus from the dead you showed that you came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Free from the grasp of death those who await your life-giving sacraments and deliver them from the spirit of corruption. Through your spirit who gives life fill them with faith, hope, and charity, that why may live with you always in the glory of your resurrection, for you are Lord for ever and ever.
How do I need to be scrutinized by these prayers and by the story of Lazarus and his sisters?
Ten years of living in our neighborhood have made it my neighborhood. Its rhythm of life, its eateries and its merchants have woven together a fabric of familiarity in which I am happy to luxuriate. I will have to say for myself that I never took it for granted; I have always recognized, gratefully, the privilege of being part of such a singular environment. So when it was locked down, the realization of loss was immediate, and the memories of happy routines flooded my mind. Between me and so much that I cherished there was now a locked glass door, shielding a darkened interior and bearing a kind note of au revoir to “our loyal customers.”
Walking connects me to neighborhood and city, but recently I have avoided it. I finally called myself on this and went to walk my streets and confront our neighborhood’s moribund state. Looking straight at it freed me from the selfishness of wanting just to get my lifestyle back, and opened me to pondering how much more has been lost than my hangouts. Perhaps it is the local impact that brings the global statistics off the page and put them in my face. My lost familiarity pales in comparison to the lost time, lost work, and lost people faced my countless people around the world.
No doubt, the residents of Wuhan and Lombardy would give anything to retrieve life before Covid-19. But surely the experience of pandemic has marked them, and the way toward a full life after Covid will demand pondering vast losses and then discovering the God who sees them and sees beyond them. Just putting things back would be to paper over wounds and insights that must be integral to the new fabric of things.
I cannot now imagine the world after Covid, but God beholds it, and in that fact of faith I trust. I believe that he built into that new time what we have suffered, and learned, what we have resisted and accepted, and how we have regressed and grown during these singular days. Under the scrutiny of Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus grow through the loss of a lifetime to the confession of the resurrection. If we can make a like move then the truth of Easter will become ever more the truth about us.