Sunday 25 March 2012 – 7.30pm
[Readings for the Third Scrutiny of Christian Initiation: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Ps 130; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45]
Human beings have, deep within their hearts, a longing for eternity. For people of faith, perhaps we can understand this more easily than others. God is eternal – and we have come from God and will return to God – and so, if you like, eternity is part of our DNA. As we look around us, and particularly as we see people whose belief in God has vanished or even was never there, we can still see the longing for eternity. However, when taken out of the horizon of faith in God, the longing for eternity can be expressed in superficial, and sadly pathetic ways.
The first reading tonight is one of the most well known passages from the prophet Ezekiel. The people of Israel are dejected and hope-less as they exist in exile away from their homeland. Some have died and are buried in their graves. The Lord makes the amazing promise that he will raise them from their graves and make them alive with his spirit, and bring them “back to the land of Israel.” The apparent hopelessness of dying and being buried in alien soil is overcome. Even death will not be a barrier to prevent the homecoming – the return to the homeland of Israel.
If we think of eternity, we can think of it as a homecoming. The longing for eternity is a longing to be at home: at home with ourselves, at home with those we love, and ultimately at home with the Lord, our creator. As we consider this eternal homecoming, we realize that alienation is in fact something that is very present in our earthly life. Due to our fallen state, sin causes us to be alienated from one another, alienated from God, and really, alienated even from our true selves. We all know the reality of this alienation in our hearts. Perhaps we often smooth it over with rationalizations, or medicate the pain of the alienation in one way or another, but we know that in all sorts of different ways, we are not at home with each other, with ourselves, or with the Lord.
The most vivid experience of this alienation is death. It’s almost impossible to ignore the pain caused by the death of those we love. We see this played out in tonight’s Gospel. After speaking with Mary about the death of her brother and Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, Saint John tells us that “Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved,” that he “began to weep.” This reaction of Jesus is something that has provoked much reflection. Why did he react so strongly? He knew what he was about to do. He had declared that Lazarus’ illness “does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory” and when setting out to go to Bethany he tells his disciples, referring explicitly to Lazarus’ death, that he was “going there to awaken him.” Some suggest that “Jesus’ strong feelings and tears may be his reaction to the unbelief of those who surrounded him.” Others suggest that his “strong feelings and tears […] may equally constitute Jesus’ acknowledgement of the burden of pain that death inflicts on human life” (Archbishop Terrence Prendergast SJ, Living God’s Word: Reflections on the Sunday Readings for Year A, Toronto, Novalis, 2010, p. 70).
The Good News that the Word of God holds out for us today is that Jesus has power over the alienation caused by sin and death. Saint Paul says to the Romans, “If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Second Reading). There is ultimately the physical death that God will raise us from, but God will also raise us from the death of sin: “if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Second Reading). With the spirit of Christ in us, God can overcome the alienation we experience in this life. The power of God working in us can bring us home to each other, to our true selves – and ultimately, God brings us home to himself.
Those who are preparing for baptism at Easter are about to become sharers in this new life that we have and proclaim. With baptism, all their sins will be washed away. The Holy Spirit will fill their hearts especially as they are confirmed. As they are admitted to Eucharistic communion, they will be brought ‘home’ to the family table of God’s sons and daughters. After their initiation they will be able to celebrate that union with God’s family at every Mass. They will also be able to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Penance to restore their baptismal dignity should it be tarnished by sin.
Friends, let us pray in a special way for those preparing for baptism. As we journey with them and consider what the Lord is accomplishing in them, let us realize that the Lord desires to continue this work in us too. Let us bring to him those situations of pain from our own lives – the alienation caused by sin and death – and let us open ourselves to the new life that Christ came to bring us, for he is “the resurrection and the life. [and] [w]hoever believes in [him], even though they die, will live …!”