A global pandemic, vicious in scope and merciless in depth, has altered ordinary life beyond measure. Beneath the scrambling to cope with medical, educational and social needs dwells an inestimable grief, an incomprehensible uncertainty, and a profound fear. And yet, today, travelling through a small town in the back of a pickup truck, a priest raised the Blessed Sacrament in blessing on homes and families. People cannot go the churches, and he brought the gift to the people. On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the readings remember the rising of Lazarus, the presence of God and the power of faith. Like that priest, the Fifth Week of Lent offers encouragement in confronting the horrors that have visited ordinary lives.
There is a pervasive sadness in this, the recognition that what once was has been forever restructured. We cannot live in a world that does not yet exist; yet there is a lingering sense that this is an unending tranistion. Sitting on the edge of this, life and death demand real consideration. What is the role suffering plays in being human? How can suffering and life be negotiated, survived? To do all that, the Gospel describes the companionship that God provides.
God in these stories is not a tyrannical power arbiting life and its vicissitudes. Instead, God is intensely caring and real. Love is visible and varied, binds the characters in the story into one. There is friendship, admiration, mutual respect, kindness and questioning; there are men and women struggling to deal with the incomprehensible, with loss. Jesus is the companion on this journey, the one recognized, admired, and challenged. He, in turn, draws on the presence of God in calling Lazarus. And that rests as a reminder to us that even in these challenging times, God is present. Life is still sacred, and God is still present to our sufferings and fears.
The second reading is a prelude to that theme: in Romans, Paul frames the reality of the Spirit of God dwelling within. That reality is an impetus within us towards goodness, purpose, and growth. The energy of existence is born of this Spirit and enables, empowers, decision-making and choices. The Gospel overflows with those decisions and choices: choosing to believe, to question, to act. Martha and Mary, the Jews, Jesus and Lazarus. Each one speaks, each one decides.
That is what we are doing now. Choosing. Deciding. Doing that with a confidence in the presence and reality of a loving God makes a huge difference. It means allowing a liberating understanding. In essence, the idea that there is something far greater than self, that ultimately, God’s Hands are far greater than our own. Struggling to control what is actually beyond human control deepens conflicts, tensions and confusion. To bravely acknowledge that means stepping into faith, much the way Mary and Martha and even Lazarus did. It is about response to reality, which is a big part of what we need to do right now. The Fifth Week of Lent is an invitation to recognize and to respond, to choose and to act. To believe.