Tuesday, March 28, 2017

5th Sunday of Lent

Last week, the 4th Sunday of Lent, marked the halfway point of the season… Laetare Sunday… one of only two times during the year where the presiding priest wears rose colored vestments instead of the seasonal purple.  This week we begin to sense the end of Lent is near.  In horse racing terms we’re rounding the final turn heading into the stretch.  The last Sunday before Palm Sunday.  For many people, the end of something usually means death, but as our readings teach us, it is actually much more…

Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45

We open with a reading from the prophet Ezekiel.  While not often read during the Liturgical cycle, Ezekiel is considered one of the major prophets, and his message is as unique as his calling.  Ezekiel, having been born into the priestly class, received his call to prophecy 10 years into the Babylonian Exile.  This makes him the first Israelite prophet to receive his call outside of Israel, and is often referred to as the “Father of Judaism” because as both a priest and a prophet, his writings had a major influence on the post-exilic practice of the faith.  Today’s passage from Ezekiel comes from his “Vision of the Dry Bones.”  Through this vision we see hope for the restoration of Jerusalem.  To our Christian ears this reading would seem to deal with the doctrine of resurrection, but that is not the focus of the reading.  Rather, it is a literary device used to show the hope of the restoration of Israel… a sentiment echoed by our Psalm as we sing “with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.”  In keeping with our focus on Baptism, the symbol of “restoration” is clear… it is through Baptism that we are redeemed for the Lord… washed clean of our sin.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In this passage Paul explains that we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and by having the Spirit within us, we become more than flesh.  We are, people of the resurrection… an Easter People.  Again, remembering our Baptism, Paul says “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”  Our Baptism is what brings us to Christ, becoming part of the Body of Christ.

Finally in our Gospel, unique to John, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus.  As with our Gospels for the past two weeks, John goes to great lengths to give us the initial setup… by explaining who Lazarus and his family are, how important they are to Jesus, and how fearful the Apostles are at going near the city (noting that this story follows just before the Passover celebration and the Gospel’s final discourses before the Passion).  Again, John is using “the slow reveal” so that he can impress upon us the importance of this moment.  As with everything in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ actions are deliberate… waiting before going to see Lazarus, the responses of both Mary and Martha, Jesus’ not going into the house or the tomb.  All these elements are meant to show Jesus’ power (through God) over death, and that this evidence should be irrefutable.  Just as Jesus shows God’s power to overcome death, our own Baptism is a sign of rebirth, a resurrection to new life in Christ.

Final Thoughts:
Death = Life.  If I had to reduce all of Christian understanding down to one equation, it would have to be this.  Yet to many of us this looks impossible, like  2 + 2 = 5.  It’s counter-intuitive.  But anyone who has studied advanced mathematics and statistics knows that a seemingly simple mathematical expressions can mean different things depending on the variables and the context of the equation.  So too with our Christian understanding.  In fact, the very nature of our Christian ethos is counter-intuitive.  Perhaps the best way to explain this is with the prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

If I had to explain our Christian belief to a child, I would have to say it’s like “opposite day.”  Whatever you think is “right” or “normal” Christians believe the opposite.  When someone hits you, you don’t hit back, you “turn the other cheek.”  When someone wants your tunic, you don’t fight him for it, you give him your cloak as well.  When someone hates you, you must love them.  Even today, in what some proclaim to be our “Christian” nation, what is practiced isn’t necessarily what is preached.  Christ challenges us to do better.  To do more.  As Lent nears its conclusion, we are challenged to look beyond the status quo.  We are reminded of the life giving water, the revealing truth of light, and that God, through Christ, can bring everlasting life.

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