Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 5th Sunday in Lent

Readings: Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

The story of the raising of Lazarus appears only in the Gospel of John. Not even a trace exists in the gospel traditions of Matthew, Mark and Luke. How odd that is! You would think such a spectacular miracle would have been imprinted into all the Christian memories of Jesus. But it didn’t. In John’s gospel it seems to serve a variety of functions. First, it is an exemplification of what John has Jesus say earlier in the gospel: "The Father has given the power of life and death to the Son." (5:26) Second, the story looks forward to Jesus’ own resurrection, which will far surpass Lazarus in magnificence and glory. Third, the story is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel, which we heard in the first reading: "I will open your graves and have you rise from them" The cumulative effect of all these references clearly points to John’s primary affirmation that Jesus himself is the Son of God.

We need to hear this message now. It’s been a hard week for the community with deaths, near-deaths, scary episodes for community members, and just sad events (Fr. Mel Bennett’s automobile accident, in which he killed another person.). It’s a time when the cost of being human and human failure just weighs down upon us. I could see it in your faces this week and I could feel it in mine. We need this message of the Resurrection that Jesus is ultimately the source of life.

This reminds us how much the Christian faith is a religion of hope: hope in a blessed future; hope in a merciful and forgiving God; hope that something better lies beyond the struggles of this life.

This is told beautifully in a famous story related by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. During the 7th century Christian missionaries are trying to convert Anglo-Saxon tribes in England from their tribal gods to the Christian faith. The bishop Paulinus is attempting to convert King Edwin of Northumbria to Christianity. The king leans in that direction, but first he wants to consult with his fighting men. Should we try this new faith or not? During the discussion one of his soldiers makes this famous comment: "Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a lone sparrow through the banquet hall where you sit in winter months to dine with your thanes and councillors. Inside there is a comforting fire to warm the room; outside, the wintry storms of snow and rain are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall and out the other. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few sudden moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the darkness from whence he came. Similarly, man appears on earth a little while, but we know nothing of what went before this life, and what follows. Therefore if this new teaching can reveal any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it." (pp. 124-125) Not bad advice from a barbarian.

What the Christian faith does offer is a vision of hope. Hope that we are destined for a future with the Mystery of God. And in that all of our desires and hopes will be fulfilled....far beyond our imagining. As St. Paul writes, "For eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even entered into the human imagination what God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Cor 2:9) Moreover, the Christian faith offers a group of like-minded hopers to help and support one another to keep this hope alive. That’s precisely what we are doing in this communal celebration of the Eucharist.

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