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The Fifth Sunday of Lent

In the final week of Lent, death confronts us squarely. Ever since the Fall, death has been the enemy, the constant source of pain, despair, sadness, and woe. The Christian perspective is that, yes, death is evil and horrible, but death can only be conquered by death. For the Christian, the darkness of the grave is the passageway to resurrection and everlasting life.

Today, Jesus repeats to us: “Take away the stone”. God did not create us for the tomb, but rather he created us for life, which is beautiful, good, joyful. But “through the devil’s envy death entered the world” says the Book of Wisdom, and Jesus Christ came to free us from its bonds. We are thus called to take away the stones of all that suggests death: for example, the hypocrisy with which faith is lived, is death; the destructive criticism of others, is death; insults, slander, are death; the marginalisation of the poor, is death. The Lord asks us to remove these stones from our hearts, and life will then flourish again around us. Christ lives, and those who welcome him and follow him come into contact with life. Without Christ, or outside of Christ, not only is life not present, but one falls back into death.

– Pope Francis

Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God, may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.

Collecta

Quæsumus, Domine Deus noster, ut in illa caritate qua Filius tuus diligens mundum morti se tradidit, inveniamur ipsi, te opitulante, alacriter ambulantes. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.

Today’s Gospel: John 11:1-45

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied:

‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?

A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling

because he has the light of this world to see by;

but if he walks at night he stumbles,

because there is no light to guide him.’

He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said: 

‘I am the resurrection and the life.

If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,

and whoever lives and believes in me

will never die.

Do you believe this?’

‘Yes Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, [Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said: 

‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.

I knew indeed that you always hear me,

but I speak

for the sake of all these who stand round me,

so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’ 

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

Fifth Week of Lent Reflection

Written by Carl E. Olson in Praying the Our Father in Lent

Themes: Death, Resurrection, Mercy, Hypocrisy, Worship, Trust, God’s Word, Faith

In the final week of Lent, death confronts us squarely. Ever since the Fall, death has been the enemy, the constant source of pain, despair, sadness, and woe. People seek to battle death in a million ways, all of them doomed to failure. Many of those who fight death most desperately believe that nothing exists beyond this temporal world and life; they want to live forever, but as Benedict XVI noted in his encyclical on hope, “To continue living forever – endlessly – appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible, but to live always, without end – this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable” (Spe Salvi, 10).

The Christian perspective is that, yes, death is evil and horrible, but death can only be conquered by death. For the Christian, the darkness of the grave is the passageway to resurrection and everlasting life. This is made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ, as expressed by St Paul in the epistle for Cycle A: “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you” (Rm 8:11).

The story of the raising of Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus, also heard in Cycle A, is one of the most poignant in the Gospels. It displays both the full humanity of Jesus: consider the simple power of the words “and Jesus wept” along with his full divinity. St Augustine captured the astounding wonder of that moment: “A man was raised up by him who made humankind.” Death can only be overcome by the one who created life, who himself is Life itself. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus tells Martha, the grieving sister, “whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live…” In the Gospel for Cycle B, Jesus delivers this bracing statement: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25).

This stark challenge is perfectly matched by the overwhelming mercy offered to the woman caught in adultery (Cycle C), when Jesus declares, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). During this final Sunday of Lent, take time in prayer to acknowledge that you are standing face to face with the righteous teacher and merciful judge. You know your sins; you are well aware of what you deserve. Further, you know that Jesus has not overlooked your sins. “Therefore the Lord did also condemn” insisted St Augustine “but condemned sins not the sinner.” While rejecting your sin, he accepts you. He invites you to a radical life of discipleship, liberated from sin and free from being precariously balanced between accusation and damnation. he offers the fullness of life – that is, himself – perpetually and completely.

Such is the reality of the resurrection: Jesus died on the cross so that we might live; he gave so that we might be filled; he came down from heaven and then into the tomb so that we might be filled with divine life and ascend into glory: “Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Rm 5:2). Amen!

Prayer

I love you, O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving you than live without loving you. I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally…. My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath

St John Vianney, The Curé of Ars

Praying the Our Father in Lent