“I will… bring you up from your graves, O my people.
I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…”
Outside my window, birds are singing and tulips are poking through a small patch of warmed soil in my flowerbed. How can nature seem so predictably normal, while in our human reality nothing feels normal or solid? It’s been said that humanity’s true character is often exposed when confronted with great upheaval and uncertainty. I suspect the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 will prove no different when we look back in the months and years to come, and reflect on who “we became” during this time of turmoil.
For three Sundays, the gospels tell of how Jesus revealed his true identity and purpose as “living water” to the Samaritan woman at the well, “the light of the world” to the man born blind and as “the resurrection and the life” in this Sunday’s story of Lazarus being restored to life. Each time, Jesus challenges those whom he encounters, to trust and to believe in the power of God working through him. As we face our present-day adversity, our own faith and trust in God’s presence is also being challenged.
For some, fear may lead them to overlook the loving God in whom Jesus asks us to trust. They’re convinced that disasters are a sign that God is punishing a sinful world. Really? Would the loving and merciful God shown to us by Jesus over and over in our gospels, sacrifice the elderly and most vulnerable to teach the world a lesson? What image of God does this “teach” us? Still others might abandon their faith in God completely, as they doubt a benevolent God would allow such disasters to even occur. For those who question God’s “motive,” I recall words of Fr. Ronald Rolheiser who reminds us that God promises to “redeem,” not “rescue;” promising to redeem what is broken and fearful into something that is whole and life-giving. God did not “rescue” Jesus, nor did Jesus “rescue” Lazarus. He did redeem them, however.
Today’s gospel shows God’s commitment, not only to life after death, but of God’s promise to bring new life and hope to all the dark places in our lives today! There are many among us who, long before they are buried in the ground, are “buried” in the darkness of anxiety, hopelessness and loneliness. I was struck by the commands Jesus gives to those around Lazarus’ grave that still challenge us today: “Roll away the stone,” “Come out!” and “Unbind him and let him go.” Are we not also being challenged to remove the “stones” or barriers that keep people trapped in darkness, by reaching out in friendship and acts of neighbourly compassion that they may see some light in their lives?
Is Jesus not asking those who feel “buried” by overwhelming fears of the future to “Come out” into the world and share both their gifts and burdens with others, so that “burdens shared may become burdens halved?” Giving of oneself diminishes our sense of loss and nurtures gratitude for what we do have.
For those of us who have time, finances and prayers to offer, is Jesus not challenging us to give of what we have so that those who are on the front line of essential services are not “bound” in their efforts by shortages of materials or worries that their own families are not being cared for? We can all do something to “open the graves” of fear and hopelessness of those who are struggling the most in this newest adversity of our time. The inevitable approach of spring reminds us all that God’s gift of new life and new hope is always available to us – even if we may not always feel it. Jesus challenges us to trust that God is alive and working amidst us (faith), that God’s redeeming love will always prevail (hope), and that we are called to be Christ to all who are most in need (charity), not just in our present adversity, but in the years to come.