Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent 2023
Our Lenten journey, our camping trip intoour heart is nearing it’s completion. Palm Sunday and Easter are in sight. Today we journey to Bethany to a tragic scene where the Lord’s good friend Lazarus had died. For sure, it’s not a happy incident… at first. We stood with Mary, Martha and Jesus and the crowd and we witness the events unfold: A cave sealed with a stone, a crowd gathered… people are crying… family, friends, and neighbours sadden come to offer sympathy, the two sisters, the disciples—and Jesus all standing facing the tomb. Someone rolls back the stone, over Martha’s protest at the stench. Jesus prays to God that those gathered may believe. The tension rises. Jesus cries out loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” The tension becomes unbearable.
Then, from the entrance of the tomb stumbles the figure of a man tied hand and foot, wrapped up like a mummy, face covered, able to see nothing. Imagine the shock and horror of the people there, at the sight. Finally, Jesus calls for someone to untie him and strip off the burial shroud. Then there is a change not only in Lazarus, but especially in the mourners…a new belief in this man who raises the dead. Unforgettable, this tense drama finishes with the unbelievable suddenly believing. We are only two weeks before Easter Sunday, where we will hear a ‘similar story’ of what we have heard today. There will be another tomb sealed with a stone, shut up for three days, and then empty of all but the burial clothes and the face covering. But no one will be there to witness the dead one rising.
There is another difference, a greater one. In Lazarus’s story, Jesus stands outside the tomb and summons Lazarus to come out. In his own story, Jesus himself goes into the tomb to bring out with him all the dead gone before him throughout history. In our own personal experiences, when we find ourselves in the cold dark, bound by unbelief or fear or hatred or whatever else has deadened us in spirit, Jesus stands at the entrance to our tomb and calls us ‘to come out.’ And if we’re too weak, or not able, then he comes in to help us…that is if we let him.
During Lent, we have been invited to ‘enlarge the space of our tents,’ hopefully we realize we are loved as Lazarus was loved. We have been called forth from our places of darkness and death to light and life. This week we are called to focus on Liturgy… “Liturgiea” is Greek for ‘the work of the people.’ What does this mean? Our “work,” “Liturgiea” happens when we leave this church. And to the best of our ability, we live the life of Jesus, being his presence to others.
However that is not so easy. Because we all have places in our heart that feel lifeless or dead: disbelief, uncertainty about our faith, our future. What is confining us there: the feeling of confusion, abandonment, struggle for acceptance, fear, loneliness? Perhaps it’s material things or after work schedules that consume us? This week, let us ask Jesus, the one who wants to come in, go those hurting places of our ‘tent,’ /‘heart,’ where we feel trapped, and let him release us. Those strips of cloth left behind from Lazarus represents the ultimate change…leaving our old ways behind. What have we left behind this Lent to show that we have “enlarged” our “Tents” or hearts in some way?
If the covid experience has taught us anything, hopefully it is this: We need God and one another. That God is waiting for us at the center of our hearts ready to to release us from what binds us. Amen.