Blue Mass for First Responders

Today’s readings: Daniel 3:25, Daniel 3:34-43 | Romans 8:31-39 | Mark 4:35-41

“Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?”

I can remember during my seminary formation, one of the most terrifying days of my life was during my third year of Theology formation.  That year, I had agreed to serve as a fire chaplain for one of the local fire departments.  I didn’t take that position lightly, because frankly, the whole idea of it scared me to death.  But I was asked to pray about it, and I’ll tell you, if you do that, you’re never going to hear God say, “Never mind, I’ll ask someone else.”  So the day when I was most terrified was one morning when I was awakened at 5am by a page from the department that they needed a couple of us chaplains to come and minister to a family whose father had just committed suicide.

I quickly got dressed and called the other chaplain who was going with me, and I headed down the hall to meet him in the parking lot.  As I was running through the hallways, I asked God, “What on earth do you want me to do in this situation?  How am I ever going to give comfort to this grieving family?”  I was absolutely terrified.  Well, we got there and, while we didn’t have adequate words to say, our presence did seem to help.  And the local police department, who did not have a chaplain, was so pleased that they asked for us to help them a few times after that.

I learned in that moment that it’s okay to be afraid, as long as I focused on Jesus.  Fear happens – no matter what we do in life.  Fear can paralyze us and keep us from doing what God wants and what others need.  Or fear can force us to look to the God who wants the best for all his children.

That’s what I think is going on in the Gospel story we just heard.  I really don’t think Jesus expected those disciples not to be afraid of the storm and the sinking boat.  I think he expected them to trust in his ability to calm the storm, which they did in some ways, or they wouldn’t have called out to him.  And that trust was rewarded.  Not just by the calming of the storm, but by the knowledge they gained in that situation that they could count on him and not let fear put an end to their relationship with him.

I can’t know the mix of emotions that comes to our first responders when they get the call.  I got a little glimpse of it as a fire chaplain.  But I wasn’t the one walking into the burning building because I was with the family as they huddled in a neighbor’s house across the street.  I wasn’t the first one into the house when the family member committed suicide; the situation was stabilized before I was even allowed in.  That all being the case, I do know, when I’ve had to act in times of fear and crisis, I was always okay with it when I remembered the presence of the God who never abandons us. 

In these days of pandemic, there is added fear and stress that is added to what you do.  You don’t know if the people you encounter in the course of your work have been exposed to COVID-19, and how that may affect you.  It’s hard to social distance when you have to respond to someone with a medical need or who needs some physical persuasion to obey the law.  PPE is hard to come by, and even when you have it, you have to pray it’s on right and doing its job.  But regardless of the situation, our communities still have needs, and still need the assistance of those who have sworn to serve and protect us all.

In the midst of the complication that this disease puts into every interaction, Saint Paul’s words in today’s second reading give great comfort:

What will separate us from the love of Christ?

Will anguish, or peril, or the sword? …

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly

through him who loved us.

The presence of a virus in our world is never, can never, will never outweigh the presence of Christ who loves us.  Nothing can ever separate us from that.

And so tonight we gather in gratitude for all that our first responders do for our community, especially during this difficult time.  I have to give a special shout-out to the Plainfield community, who have gathered around in support of each other during this time.  I haven’t experienced that level of cooperation and care in any other community in which I’ve ever served, so my gratitude is that much greater!  We also pray for all first responders in communities all over our nation and our world.  We ask God to give them safety and the assurance of his presence in every situation.

And so we faithful ones forge on in hope, knowing that COVID-19 is not forever.  Nothing gets to be forever except God’s grace and mercy and love.  And so, while disease is a fearsome thing, we don’t owe it our fear.  If we use that energy instead to trust in God’s providence and presence in every situation, and know that he is at work in us, he can then use us to renew the face of the earth.  Because that’s what’s really going on here: renewal.  Renewal of our relationship with God, our trust in him, our commitment to live the life he wants for us.

God’s mercies aren’t limited by disease or social distancing.  Fear and disease and even the powers of hell will not prevail against God’s Church and God’s work in the world.  

Because Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Today’s readings

Considering all that we have been through since Lent began, it seems in some ways like time has stood still.  I saw a meme on Facebook that said “2020 is a unique leap year.  It had 29 days in February, 300 days in March, and 5 years in April.”  Sheltered in place, and fearing a mysterious illness, it seems like time is standing still.  When you can’t do what you usually do, it’s easy to perceive time that way.

We English-speakers have just one word for time, but other languages have more; those languages recognize the different kinds of time.  Most notably for us, because it is reflected in the New Testament, the Greek language has at least two kinds of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is the kind of time you can measure.  It’s a day or a week or even the timeline of a project at work.  Kairos on the other hand can be thought of as quality time: a summer afternoon spent with your family, a visit to a sick loved one, or a chance encounter with an old friend.  

El mundo a veces ve al tiempo de una manera bastante cínica.  Pero así es como Dios ve el tiempo: “Cristo ayer y hoy, el principio y el fin, el Alfa y la Omega, todo el tiempo le pertenece a él, y toda la eternidad, para él sea la gloria y el poder por los siglos de los siglos.  Amén.” Esas palabras, de la bendición de la vela al comienzo de la liturgia de esta noche, son palabras importantes, incluso valientes para que ofrezcamos en esta noche santísima. La vigilia de esta noche proclama que todo tiempo es santo, santificado por nuestro Dios que ha  caminado con nosotros durante nuestros días de ayer, permanece con nosotros hoy y continuará con nosotros en nuestro mañana. No hay un solo momento de nuestra vida, ni un solo momento de nuestra historia que no sea sagrado porque cada momento ha sido, es, y siempre estará lleno de la presencia de nuestro Dios, que es la santidad misma. Es por eso que nos reunimos a celebrar en esta noche santísima.

It’s important to keep these kinds of time in mind because the world sometimes sees time in a rather cynical way.   But here’s how God sees time: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age and for ever.  Amen.”  Those words, from the blessing of the candle at the beginning of tonight’s liturgy, are important, even brave words for us to offer on this most holy night.  Tonight’s vigil proclaims that all time is holy, sanctified by our God who has walked with us through our yesterdays, remains with us today, and forges on with us toward our tomorrows.  There is not a single moment of our life, not a single moment of our history that is not holy because every moment has been, is now, and always will be imbued with the presence of our God who is holiness itself.  That’s what we gather to celebrate on this most holy night.

I think there is often a temptation to come to the conclusion that the world, and especially human history, was a creative experiment that went horribly wrong; that God sent his Son to clean up the mess only to have him killed for it, and then in a last move of desperation raised him up out of the grave.  But we know that’s not how this works: again, this is cynicism and it has no basis in truth.  Salvation was not some kind of dumb luck or happy accident.  The salvation of the world had been part of God’s creative plan all along.  Humanity, given the grace of free will had, and has, certainly gone astray.  But God did not create us simply to follow our own devices and end up in hell.  He created us for himself, and so sent his Son Jesus to walk our walk, to die our death, and to rise up over it all in the everlasting promise of eternal life.  That’s what we celebrate on this most holy of all nights.

Tonight we have heard stories of our salvation, God’s saving action in the world throughout all time.  Each of our readings has been a stop in the history of God’s love for us.  God’s plan for salvation, and his sanctification of time, began back at the beginning of it all.  Each of the days was hallowed with precious creation, and all of it was created and pronounced good.  Later, as Moses and the Israelites stood trapped by the waters of the Red Sea, God’s providence made a way for them and cut off their pursuers, making the future safe for those God calls his own.  The prophet Ezekiel foretells the recreation all humanity will experience as they come to know Christ and are filled with the Spirit.  St. Paul rejoices in the baptism that has washed away the stains of sin as we have died and risen with Christ, and has brought us into a new life that leads ultimately to God’s kingdom.  And finally, our Gospel tonight tells us not to be afraid, to go forth into the Galilee of our future and expect to see the Lord.

We Christians have been spared the necessity of cynicism.  Our gift has been and always is the promise that Jesus Christ is with us forever, even until the end of the world.  And so, just as God sanctified all of time through his interventions of salvation, so too he has sanctified our lives through the interventions of Sacrament.  We are a sacramental people, purified and reborn in baptism, fed and strengthened in the Eucharist, and in Confirmation, set on fire to burn brightly and light up our world.  Tonight we recall these three Sacraments of Initiation and recommit ourselves to the promises of our baptism, and long for the day when all can be fed together by the Eucharist once again.

Creo que Dios está haciendo algo importante en este momento en particular.  Hay suficiente tristeza en este momento como para durarnos toda la vida.  Pero si nos enfocamos en esa tristeza, podemos perdernos de lo que Dios está haciendo entre nosotros.  En estos días, me ha llamado especialmente la atención la invitación a detenerme y reflexionar sobre lo que es realmente importante.  ¿Dónde quiero estar cuando todo esto termine?  ¿Cómo es mi relación con el Señor, con mi familia, mis hermanos sacerdotes, mis seminaristas, mis compañeros de trabajo, mis feligreses? ¿Cómo se verá todo eso cuando todo esto termine?  Mucho de eso depende de mí.  Si me mantengo saludable, tendré la oportunidad de comenzar de nuevo, para hacer un mejor uso de mi tiempo de tal manera que eleve mis acciones de una manera acertada.  Y el momento de comenzar a pensar en eso, reflexionar sobre eso, es ahora.  En esta noche santísima, Cristo nos ha llevado a la plenitud de la hora gloriosa, cuando se levantó sobre el pecado y la muerte, para llevarnos a todos a la promesa de la vida eterna.  Eso tiene que significar algo para nosotros.

I believe that God is doing something important with this particular time.  There is enough sadness going around right now to last us our entire lives long.  But if we focus on that sadness, we might miss what God is doing among us.  In these days, I’ve been particularly struck by an invitation to stop and reflect on what is really important.  Where do I want to be when all this is over?  How is my relationship with the Lord, with my family, my brother priests, my seminarians, my coworkers, my parishioners – how is all of that going to look when all this is over?  A lot of that is up to me.  If I remain healthy, I’m going to have the opportunity to start again, to make better use of my chronos in such a way that it elevates my kairos.  And the time to start thinking about that, reflecting on that, is right now.  On this most holy night, Christ has brought us to the fullness of the glorious hour when he rose up over sin and death to bring us all to the promise of life eternal.  That needs to mean something for us.

And it is this very night that cleanses our world from all the stains of sin and death and lights up the darkness.  The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation that Deacon Ramon sang when we entered the sanctuary tonight, tells us: “This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.  The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”  What a gift this night is, not just to us gathered here, albeit virtually, in this church; not just to all the Catholics gathered together throughout the world on this holy night, but to all people in every time and place.  Our world needs the light and our time needs the presence of Christ, and our history needs salvation.  Blessed be God who never leaves his people without the great hope of his abiding presence!

And so, having come through this hour to be sanctified in this vigil, we will shortly be sent forth to help sanctify our own time and place.  Brightened by our kairos together tonight, we now become a flame to light up our darkened world.  That is our ministry in the world.  That is our call as believers.  That is our vocation as disciples.  

Y así, después de pasar esta hora de ser santificados en esta vigilia, pronto seremos enviados para ayudar a santificar nuestro propio tiempo y lugar.  Animados por los tiempos perfectos de Dios, juntos esta noche, ahora nos convertimos en una llama para iluminar nuestro mundo oscuro.  Ese es nuestro ministerio en el mundo.  Ese es nuestro llamado como creyentes.  Esa es nuestra vocación como discípulos.

“May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star.  The one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.”

 ¡Cristo ha resucitado!  ¡Él ha resucitado!  ¡Aleluya!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Tuesday of Holy Week

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading always leaves me with a chill running down my spine.  Those four words: “And it was night” grab me every time.  These are the words that come just after Judas takes the morsel and leaves the gathering.  But let’s be clear: the evangelist didn’t include those words to tell us what time it was.  In John’s Gospel, there is an overriding theme of light and darkness.  The light and darkness, of course, refer to the evil of the world that is opposed by the light of Christ.

So when John says, “and it was night,” he is telling us that this was the hour of darkness, the hour when evil would come to its apparent climax.  This is the time when all of the sins of the world have converged upon our Lord and he will take them to the Cross.  The darkness of our sinfulness has made it a very, very dark night indeed.

Maybe we can relate to the darkness in a more tangible way these days.  With the specter of COVID-19 looming over everything, one wonders when we’re going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  These days, the darkness of illness and death make this a very dark night too.

But we know that none of this is how the story is going to end, don’t we?  COVID-19 will eventually pass.  Even our experience of death and sin isn’t a permanent thing.  Sure, the hour of darkness will certainly see Jesus die for our sins.  But the climax of evil will be nothing compared to the outpouring of grace and Divine Mercy.  The darkness of evil is always overcome by the light of Christ.  Always.  But for now, it is night, and we can feel the ponderous darkness sending a shiver up our spines.

I keep trying to look forward to the end of this health crisis and to imagine the day when I’m talking to you and not a camera.  I can’t wait for that day.  This is a dark time in our world, but it doesn’t get to be our permanent reality.  Right now we have to stay home, for our loved ones, for the vulnerable ones, for the people who come after us.  But we’re safe, and we have the promise of the presence of the Lord in our lives.

In these Holy days, we see all kinds of darkness: the darkness of this illness, the darkness that our Savior had to endure for our salvation. But may we also find courage in his triumph over this fearful night and burst forth with him to the brilliant glory of resurrection morning.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

And so it begins.  We who have been keeping Lent these forty days are coming to Lent’s fulfillment.  We know it’s been a most interesting and, well, different Lent.  I mean, that’s about the best we can say of it, right?  I keep thinking back to Ash Wednesday with the throngs of crowds who came in and out of the church all day for our Masses and prayer services.  I, for one, didn’t have an inkling of the fact that, less than three weeks after that, our whole world would have gone crazy.  And now we’re sheltered in place, keeping our social distance, really fasting in a whole new way.  We’re fasting from social interaction, we are fasting from sacraments, we are fasting from in-person worship and prayer, we’re fasting from touch and embrace and so much more.  

In these days, though, I know I have had occasion to reflect on the things that really matter.  I’ve been sustained by the presence of God in my life, giving me strength to confront challenges I never thought I could handle, or would have to.  I’ve prayed with people over the phone for the first time I can remember.  I’ve found new ways to tell family, friends, and parishioners how much I love them.  

Over the course of this week, we will gather – virtually, of course – several times to mark the events that have won our salvation.  On Thursday, we will gather at 7pm to celebrate the Lord’s Supper: that night when he gave us the Eucharist and the priesthood so that he would be among us until the end of time.  On Friday, we will gather at 3pm to revisit our Lord’s Passion, to adore from our homes the Cross which was the altar on which he sacrificed his life for ours.  And on Saturday, we will bless our Easter food at 11am and then come together, virtually, at 8pm to recount the stories of our salvation and welcome the Resurrection, rejoicing with all of the Church on that most holy night.  No Catholic should ever miss these incredible liturgies: they are in fact the reason we are a Church and they highlight our mission in the world.  If you struggle to find the meaning in life, these celebrations will help you on the way.

I want to encourage you to enter into these celebrations in your homes.  On Thursday, perhaps have bread and wine on a table near the place you’re watching Mass.  Share it after Mass not as Eucharist, of course, but as a remembrance of what Jesus set forth for our salvation.  On Friday, have a cross nearby that you can reverence during the Adoration of the Holy Cross part of the liturgy.  On Saturday, light a candle as we will at the beginning of Mass to recall that Christ is the light that burns through the darkness.  I encourage you to take the journey through Holy Week in a special way, with fervent prayer for a cure for this virus that we might be together again.  Let us keep that as our special intention during our Holy Week journey together.

Today’s Passion reading recalls what Jesus came to do in our world.  Just a few days before our reading took place, Jesus had entered Jerusalem, the city of the center of the Jewish religion, the city he has been journeying toward throughout the gospel narrative, and he entered to the adulation of throngs.  Cloaks were thrown down in the street, the people waved palms and chanted “Hosanna.”  It seemed like Jesus’ message had finally been accepted, at least by the crowds who had long been yearning for a messiah to deliver them from foreign oppression.

Only that wasn’t the kind of salvation Jesus came to offer.  Instead, he preached forgiveness and mercy and real justice, and he healed people from the inside out.  He called people to repentance, to change their lives, to hear the gospel and to live it every day.  He denounced hypocrisy, and demanded that those who would call themselves religious reach out in love to the poor and those on the margins.  It wasn’t a message that was particularly welcome; it wasn’t the message they thought the messiah would bring.

And that’s what brings us to the one hundred and eighty degree turn we experience in today’s second gospel reading, the reading of our Lord’s Passion and death.  Enough of this, they say; the religious leaders must be right: he must be a demon, or at least a troublemaker.  Better that we put up with the likes of Barabbas.  As for this one, well, crucify him.

Who are we going to blame for this?  Whose fault is it that they crucified my Lord?  Is it the Jews, as many centuries of anti-Semitism would assert?  Was it the Romans, those foreign occupiers who sought only the advancement of their empire?  Was it the fickle crowds, content enough to marvel at Jesus when he fed the thousands, but abandoning him once his message was made clear?  Was it Peter, who couldn’t even keep his promise of standing by his friend for a few hours?  Was it the rest of the apostles, who scattered lest they be tacked up on a cross next to Jesus?  Was it Judas, who gave in to despair thinking he had it all wrong?  Was it the cowardly Herod and Pilate who were both manipulating the event in order to maintain their pathetic fiefdoms?  Who was it who put Jesus on that cross?

And the answer, as we well know, is that it’s none of those.  It was me.  Because it’s my sins that led Jesus to the Way of the Cross.  It’s my sins that betrayed him; it’s my sins that have kept me from friendship with God.  And so he willingly gave his life that I might have life.  And you.

He gave himself for us.

Holy Hour: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Why did you doubt?

This is one of those Saint Peter stories in the Gospel that sometimes causes preachers to give Saint Peter a hard time about his “little faith.”  I think Saint Peter displayed great faith here, although with an admittedly somewhat-rocky execution.  And I think this wonderful little story – one of my favorite Gospel stories – speaks to us in this very ponderous and difficult time, as our world struggles with a pandemic with seemingly no end nor cure in sight.  In times like this, we people of faith have special recourse to the Gospel and the saints, those same faithful friends who accompany us in all the good times and bad times of our lives.  All the more so now.

So I think this story shows Saint Peter doing three things right, and these right things are models for us people of faith in a time like this.

First, he goes to Jesus.  Realizing that what they originally took to be a ghost was, in fact, their Lord, Peter brazenly offers to come to Jesus on the water.  Why?  We could certainly impute all sorts of motives to Peter, maybe even ascribe it to folly.  But what’s right about this is that he wanted to be with Jesus, and Jesus wasn’t in the boat.  In the midst of a storm, he knew it was better to be with the Lord.  

I don’t know about you, but when I look around, it’s as stormy as I ever want to see the world right now.  We can go all sorts of places.  We can watch the wrong Netflix movies, or sit on the couch all day, or spend too much time on the internet, or stand in front of the refrigerator a million times.  But none of that is healthy.  You need to go to Jesus.  And I know that seems impossible when church is closed and you can’t receive the sacraments.  That’s a sadness for all of us. But you can still go to Jesus in your heart, you can pray and read scripture.  You absolutely have to do those things.  Get out of your boat and go where Jesus is.

The second thing Saint Peter does right is that he actually walks on the water.  How does he do that?  He does that by looking at Jesus.  Notice very carefully that he only stays above the water while he’s looking at Jesus.  When instead he notices how strong the wind was, he begins to sink.  Eyes on Jesus, he’s walking on water; eyes on the storm, and he’s sinking into the depths.

Our eyes can be fixed in the wrong place pretty easily these days.  We can scroll endlessly through Facebook.  We can watch the news for hours on end.  But none of this is helping us, friends.  All it’s causing is stress and sadness and a deep hole that we can’t fill up.  We have to look at Jesus.  Participate in a livestreamed Mass.  Pray the stations of the cross and the Rosary.  Meditate on the day’s readings.  Read one of the Gospels.  Anything to keep your eyes on Jesus.  Because if all you’re looking at is the storm, you’ll sink deeper and deeper.  Don’t let that happen.

The third thing Saint Peter models for us is when he finds himself sinking, he calls out to Jesus.  “Lord, save me!”  When he does that, he finds out that he can’t ever sink so deep that Jesus can’t pull him out.  Jesus reaches out his hand, catches him, and they both get back in the boat.

“Lord, save me!”  Sometimes we don’t know what to pray when things get bad.  I remember back in seminary when both of my parents came down with cancer and I had no idea how to pray anymore.  All I could say was, “Help.”  Kind of like, “Lord, save me!”  And God did help: he sent some of my classmates to come and pray with me and help me get my head and heart back where they needed to be.  Those little prayers are often more effective than ten minutes of endless talking at God.  

Because we’ve never sunk so far that Jesus can’t be our rescuer.  And when we’re sinking, he’s the best source of refuge.  Don’t ever forget that.  He’s out there, walking on the water, ready to grab your hand at any point.  Don’t ever think your problems are too big or too little to call on Jesus.  Sometimes we forget that we have a Savior, and sometimes we don’t think we need a Savior, all the while sinking deeper into the ocean of despair.  Jesus doesn’t want that to be so.  Reach out your hand, call his Name, and be saved.

One last thing we should note in this story: Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Saint Peter did in fact have little faith.  But I would assert that it’s better to have little faith than none at all.  Saint Peter’s little faith put him on the water with his Lord, and got him saved when he was sinking.  The other guys in the boat didn’t have those opportunities for growth.  Saint Peter always wanted to be with Jesus.  Sometimes – okay – often, he messed up.  But every time our Lord gave him a second chance.  And every time, that second chance gave Saint Peter the grace of growing in his faith.  Saint Peter is indeed a good model for all of us, all of us with our little faith.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

As I’ve been praying during this COVID-19 crisis, I’ve been struck by two things.  First is that God, who never sets in motion the evil that happens to us (including this crisis), intends to do something in us during this time.  We will have to wait and see what that is, all the while being faithful disciples who trust in God’s mercy.  The second striking thing in my prayer is that God wants us, in this mournful time, to rediscover and come to rely on the virtue of hope.

Now, virtues are those habits and dispositions that lead us to what is good (CCC 1804). There are generally a couple of different kinds of virtues: human virtues (like prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) and theological virtues (like faith, hope and charity).  Of these, hope is the virtue that recognizes our desire for happiness in this life and the next, which is an aspiration placed in our hearts by God himself (CCC 1818).  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this virtue of hope causes us to “desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1817).

Hope is that virtue that gets us through the difficulties of this life with a view toward what is to come.  It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, and not the light of an oncoming train!  Hope is so necessary in every moment of history, in every society and in every person’s life.  Hope is all the more necessary in moments of crisis, like this one.  Hope holds fast to the belief that we are travelers in this world, that we are not home yet, and that the best is yet to come.  We Christians hold fast to the knowledge that the Resurrection is the primary source of our hope, testifying that we have the invitation to life eternal, and the abiding presence of our God who made us for himself.

This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

Those are crazy words.  They really are.  I think that, at least in years past, when we have heard these words, we just sort of accepted them as no big deal.  I mean, we’ve all heard the story a million times, right?  But those were crazy words, and the disciples, I think, would have received them as such.  I can almost imagine them doing a mental eye-roll!  And I think, these days, we might be the ones rolling our eyes: we’ve seen so many die of this awful virus in the last weeks.  This illness seems, very much, to end in death.

And so it was for Lazarus, too, friends.  I mean, he did really die.  That’s the whole point that was made by Martha’s seemingly-obvious, and perhaps even humorous comment, “Lord, by now there will be a stench.”  The belief was that, after three days, the dead person was really, really dead, and they weren’t coming back.  Lazarus has been in there four days, so it was reasonable to know that he’d be stinking of death.  But, Jesus insisted that they roll away the stone so they could see the mercy of God.  And so they did.

And the dead man came out.  That’s another one that we sort of gloss over in our millionth reading of this familiar story.  But let’s not underplay what is, actually and intentionally, an amazing miracle!  Someone who was stinking of death, having been rotting away for four days, got up and walked out of a tomb.  It’s a miracle of hope.  The dead man came out!

It doesn’t take too much imagination for Christian faithful people to see the foreshadowing in this story.  Jesus, too, will really die, and he too, will really rise, although in a different way.  Both of these episodes of a dead man walking out of a grave remind us to take up hope in the real knowledge that it is God who has control over life and death.  They remind us to hope in the knowledge that death is not the end.  They remind us to hope in the Christian conviction that God never intends the evil that befalls us, but allows it that we might hope in his mercy.  

God is doing something important during these days of quarantine and suffering.  Let’s not miss them.  The word “Lent” means “springtime,” and I believe that this can be a new springtime of faith for us.  This springtime can enliven hope in us, when we had given ourselves to the deathly cynicism of a world encrusted in the stench of materialism, self-centeredness, and entitlement.  So we cannot give in to any sense of doom or despair.  God is, always and forever, in control.

Will there be suffering?  Yes, and, I’m sorry to say, plenty of it.  This illness is touching all of us in some way and none of it is pleasant.  But let’s remember that Lazarus died of an illness, and Jesus died after suffering indignity, a scourging, and an ignominious, tortuous death on a cross.  But in each of those cases, God used suffering to unleash mercy, and glory, and a flood of grace.  God is calling us to the virtue of hope, brothers and sisters.  We know that this time of suffering will unleash mercy, glory and grace as well.  Because we have hope.  God is in control.

This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

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