29 March 2020 Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor for 5th Sunday of Lent

Readings : Ez.37.12-14, Ps 130 ;Rom 8.8-11, Jn 11.1-45

These readings from the Word of God link hopelessness with hope. As words and writings of religious faith they dare to break through the cold and frozen immobility of the grave. They do so with the assertion of trust in an assurance of the mystery of eternal life with God. That assurance has been given to us, revealed, in the Christian dispensation through the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Baptised in Christ “who has come into the world” (Jn.11.27), we, Christians, carry this Good News, this promise for humankind, for the entire human family.

Yet, even as bearers of the mystery of this assurance, in these life-threatening times of anxiety, and even of fear in the face of the coronavirus, our innermost fibres align with the often prayed febrile words of the Psalm we have just read :

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord

Lord, hear my voice … (Ps.130 1)

With an anxious hope, like the psalmist, and Martha and Mary, the sisters of the dead Lazarus, on the testing limits of our reason and consciousness in these times, we entrust ourselves, our lives, our families, our friends and others to God with sentiments or words, like those of the same psalmist :

My soul is waiting for the Lord

I count on his word (Ps 130.5)

The gospel passage concerning Lazarus, his sisters and others, one of the signs in the gospel according to St John, proclaims Jesus, the Word of God, the incarnate Son of God, as the one before whom death yields its sting.  In Jesus’ sayings, actions, and in his death and resurrection, an utterly new, prevenient, unprecedented and transformative force has been released in the affairs of humankind. The finality of death has been broken.

Yet, faith and trust in this promise does not relieve the loss, finality and even dread of death or severe illness, not even for Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus. You noticed how Martha, the active one, when meeting Jesus makes her lament an act of faith in Jesus, as does her sister, Mary, in her turn.

It’s worth taking the Bible and reading the passage for oneself as a form of prayer and meditation – if you have a Bible at home, turn to the gospel according to St John chapter 11.1-45.

Jesus’ response to Martha and his words before the tomb of the dead Lazarus are words of faith that offer prayerfully a hope of a new and transformative power, the dispensation of resurrection to new and eternal life.

On this fifth Sunday of Lent, when so many of us experience solitude, when the wise measures introduced by our public authorities limit our freedom of movement and association for our own good and the common good of all, we might consider taking up in our private spaces any or all of the following :

  1. holding our family, relatives, friends and neighbours in our prayers
  2. praying for a particular person who is alone and in need, and call them on the telephone
  3. pray for those who are working in our hospitals, from laundry and kitchen to laboratory and ward, all those doctors, clinicians, nurses who are putting themselves on the frontline to help others
  4. pray that political leaders and all who are involved in war and arms production and trade will heed the appeal for a global cease fire by the Secretary General of the United Nations
  5. pray for the people of Africa and for relief agency workers, like Trōcaire, CAFOD, SCIAF and other catholic agencies who, this Lent, will not have the injection of support traditionally given to them by us at this time
  6. pray for those living in refugee camps

In these trying times we return to the cradle experience of Church and Christianity, when the first Christians gathered and prayed in their homes. From our kitchen table, bedroom or sofa, from delivery van or rollator, let us raise our prayers, like Martha and Mary, to the one in whom they continued to trust and hope. And with those words of Jesus from the gospel passage we have heard today :   “I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord, whoever believes in me will never die” (Jn.11.26),  let us pray  that we and all humanity may continue to hope, and care for each other in the depths of our concern and disquiet.

Amen.