Sunday, 29 March 2020 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the fifth Sunday in the season of Lent, as we approach closer to the beginning of the Holy Week and the Passion of Our Lord, we focus our attention towards the coming of Easter in which we celebrate the glorious Resurrection of Our Lord, and how through that Resurrection, He has brought upon all of us the hope of new life through His Resurrection, of which today’s Gospel passage on the resurrection of Lazarus is a premonition of what the Lord was to bring to us.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, we heard of God’s promise to the people of Israel through Ezekiel, how He would restore them and bring them back to the land of their ancestors, and free them from their humiliation and bondage as a defeated and conquered people, after their kingdom and land were destroyed and conquered by the Babylonians under king Nebuchadnezzar. At that time, the destruction of the kingdom of Judah and the city of Jerusalem had just happened, the Temple destroyed and the Ark of God disappeared.

The morale of the people of Israel at that time must have been really low, as they were in depth of despair and darkness, having been humbled such by their own disobedience against God. But the Lord reminded them then through Ezekiel how they would once again have a share in His joy and receive great happiness for the Lord promised them all that He would deliver them from their predicament, and that He would give them a new life. This is a premonition of what would happen in the days to come, when through king Cyrus of Persia, God would allow His people to return to the land of their ancestors.

But this is also a premonition of what is to come for us mankind, in the promise of liberation from an even greater darkness and humiliation, that is the trials we experience because of our sins and wickedness. God promised us all a new life that is free from sin, where we will no longer suffer the consequences of sin, liberated and made free from the burden of our sins which had enslaved us and corrupted us all these while. And He made all these promises true and fulfilled by sending to us His own Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord showed us what He meant by His greatest miracle then yet, in bringing back even a dead person back into life, witnessed by many hundreds and more people who happened to be there. The resurrection of Lazarus has always been read on this fifth Sunday of the season of Lent to prepare us for the celebration of the Lord’s own Resurrection at Easter. And this resurrection of the dead Lazarus was a great proof for all those who witnessed it, how the Lord was with Jesus, the power from on high, authority over all life and death. This is something that no one colluding with the devil could have, unlike what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law claimed.

On a separate occasion, the Lord Jesus also raised the daughter of an official from the dead, as well as the son of a widow from the town of Naim. All these showed that death, the ultimate enemy, is no longer something that is to be feared. And here we need to understand better the nature of how death is related to all of us, so that we may be better able to appreciate the significance of what we have heard in our Scripture passages today. Death is something that all of us have always feared since it is something that is uncertain and scary, marking the definitive end to life in this world as we know it.

And death is the consequence of sin, which is then in turn caused by our disobedience against God, our inability to follow His will, our shortcomings and fall into the path that is divergent from God’s appointed path. Death is our fate, just as our first ancestors, Adam and Eve had to suffer death because of their disobedience, that they were to ‘return to dust just as they had been made from dust’. They were not meant to suffer this fate, for God intended for everything to be good and perfect just as how He created all of creation.

This means that all of us were meant to enjoy the fruits of God’s creation, to receive the fullness of His intended inheritance and to bask in God’s love and grace forever. This was why God created us in the first place, to share in the wonderful love overflowing from Him. But, our disobedience led to sin, and sin created that separation between us and God, and since we have been sundered from God’s grace and presence, He, Who is the Source of all life, that is why we suffer and experience death.

And especially at this time when the whole world is facing the terrible coronavirus pandemic, the Covid-19 trouble, and people are dying in their thousands, with many tens and even hundreds of thousands are now suffering from the disease, we can see how the whole world is gripped with fear, especially over the suffering that the sickness is bringing to us, and even more so over death, as many feared that they may succumb to the disease and die.

What we have seen in the past few weeks showed this, how so many people acted in a very selfish and irrational manner, as people flocked to the markets and shops, hoarding many essential goods such as food and also sanitary equipments, which put much of the world’s supply chain in great strain and at the same time, denying many of those who need the necessities from getting what they should have gotten. Many bought much more than what they should have even considered buying, in what we know as panic buying or hoarding.

And then we also knew and heard how there had been many incidents of racism and prejudices against certain groups of people, whom many either blamed for the outset of the disease, or that they have helped in propagating its spread. These led to attacks and ostracises against those whom they had been prejudiced against, both in the direct physical terms or in the online world, on social media platforms among others.

Looking at the behaviour of many of these people, we may end up wondering what had happened to us mankind that we end up doing such actions. It is in fact our fears and our worry of death that led to many of us acting in this manner. Many of us were so afraid of facing death that we ended up acting in self-preservation and selfishness, even causing hurt to others while doing so. And ultimately we had no faith in God and this is why we ended up doing all these out of our lack of faith.

In the midst of all these terrible things happening all around us, despite all the darkness and troubles we are facing, we must remember that there is still light and hope by our side. God is that light and hope that we must hold fast to, and we must not let go of this light that we have, for God has given us His reassurance, again and again that no matter how bad or terrible things may be, but as long as we keep our faith in Him, He, the Master of all things, the Lord of all life and death will deliver us from all of our troubles.

Fear is the method by which the devil is trying very hard to subvert us and to turn us away from God. Through fear, he wants us to turn inwards and indulge in our own selfish and wicked desires, that we may end up act in ways that lead us to sin, by our lack of care for others, by our selfishness that cause the hurt of others because we want to preserve ourselves. When we are too afraid of death and having no faith in God, that is when we end up on the slippery path towards sin and death itself.

The more we fear death, the more in fact we draw closer to it, because we have little or no faith in God. And it is imperative that during this difficult time when we are facing this global pandemic and other issues, that we must put our faith in God and trust in His will and plan for each one of us. After all, why do we fear something that we have no control over? Life or death is in the hands of God alone, and none of us have the power to extend our lives for even a single second or even millisecond.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday, as we reflect once again on our Scripture passages, let us all think of our priorities in life. Let us all not overly worry over whether we will suffer or die especially in this terrible times. Instead, let us all focus our attention on caring those who are around us, spending precious time to love those who are in need of love, especially in this moment when many may need consolation and love, comfort and kindness.

Let us all be filled with care and love for our fellow brothers and sisters, that we may truly embody the Lenten spirit of repentance and turning towards God with all of our heart. It is by deepening our charity and love, and by casting aside all of the pride and ego in us that we will be able to appreciate better the love which God has for us, and to better able to trust Him and believe in the resurrection and the new life which He will give us all who believe in Him.

Let us all look forward to celebrate the glorious Resurrection of the Lord in this coming Easter, knowing how God has triumphed over sin and death, and how none of us should ever worry about suffering and death anymore, since God will restore us to the fullness of His inheritance and grace, and while we experience the death of our physical bodies, but after that, we will be raised in glory to join in body and soul with Him and all the Angels and Saints, in the glorious new eternal life.

May God bless us all and may He strengthen us all to live courageously and with faith even through this difficult moment. And may He also heal all those who are suffering, console those who have lost their loved ones, and bring those who have passed on into His eternal rest and glory. Amen.

Sunday, 29 March 2020 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

John 11 : 1-45

At that time, there was a sick man named Lazarus who was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This is the same Mary, who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped His feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was sick.

So the sisters sent this message to Jesus, “Lord, the one You love is sick.” On hearing this, Jesus said, “This illness will not end in death; rather it is for God’s glory, and the Son of God will be glorified through it.”

It is a fact that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus; yet, after He heard of the illness of Lazarus, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Only then did He say to His disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.” They replied, “Master, recently the Jews wanted to stone You. Are You going there again?”

Jesus said to them, “Are not twelve working hours needed to complete a day? Those who walk in the daytime shall not stumble, for they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, for there is no light in them.” After that Jesus said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him.”

The disciples replied, “Lord, a sick person who sleeps will recover.” But Jesus had referred to Lazarus’ death, while they thought that He had meant the repose of sleep. So Jesus said plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there, for now you may believe. But let us go there, where he is.” Then Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

When Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. As Bethany is near Jerusalem, about two miles away, many Jews had come to Martha and Mary, after the death of their brother, to comfort them. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, while Mary remained sitting in the house. And she said to Jesus, “If You had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection, at the last day.” But Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, shall live. Whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha then answered, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He Who is coming into the world.”

After that Martha went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The Master is here and is calling for you.” As soon as Mary heard this, she rose and went to Him. Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met Him. The Jews, who were with her in the house consoling her, also came. When they saw her get up and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep.

As for Mary, when she came to the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping, who had come with her, He was moved in the depths of His Spirit and troubled. Then He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They answered, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.

The Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “If He could open the eyes of the blind man, could He not have kept this man from dying?” Jesus was deeply moved again, and drew near to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across it. Jesus said, “Take the stone away.” Martha said to Him, “Lord, by now he will smell, for 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 removed the stone.

Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You for You have heard Me. I knew that You hear Me always; but My prayer was for the sake of these people, that they may believe that You sent Me.” When Jesus had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw what He did.

Alternative reading (shorter version)

John 11 : 3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45

So the sisters sent this message to Jesus, “Lord, the one You love is sick.” On hearing this, Jesus said, “This illness will not end in death; rather it is for God’s glory, and the Son of God will be glorified through it.”

It is a fact that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus; yet, after He heard of the illness of Lazarus, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Only then did He say to His disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.”

When Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, while Mary remained sitting in the house. And she said to Jesus, “If You had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection, at the last day.” But Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, shall live. Whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha then answered, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He Who is coming into the world.”

Jesus was moved in the depths of His Spirit and troubled. Then He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They answered, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.

The Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “If He could open the eyes of the blind man, could He not have kept this man from dying?” Jesus was deeply moved again, and drew near to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across it. Jesus said, “Take the stone away.” Martha said to Him, “Lord, by now he will smell, for 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 removed the stone.

Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You for You have heard Me. I knew that You hear Me always; but My prayer was for the sake of these people, that they may believe that You sent Me.” When Jesus had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw what He did.

Sunday, 29 March 2020 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Romans 8 : 8-11

So, those walking according to the flesh cannot please God. Yet your existence is not in the flesh, but in the spirit, because the Spirit of God is within you. If you did not have the Spirit of Christ, you would not belong to Him.

But Christ is within you; though the body is branded by death as a consequence of sin, the spirit is life and holiness. And if the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead is within you, He Who raised Jesus Christ from among the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies. Yes, He will do it through His Spirit Who dwells within you.

Sunday, 29 March 2020 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 129 : 1-2, 3-4ab, 4c-6, 7-8

Out of the depths I cry to You, o Lord, o Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears pay attention to the voice of my supplication.

If You should mark our evil, o Lord, who could stand? But with You is forgiveness.

For that You are revered. I waited for the Lord, my soul waits, and I put my hope in His word. My soul expects the Lord more than watchmen the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with Him is unfailing love and with Him full deliverance. He will deliver Israel from all its sins.

Sunday, 29 March 2020 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Ezekiel 37 : 12-14

YHVH said to Ezekiel, “So prophesy! Say to them : This is what YHVH says : I am going to open your tombs, My people, and lead you back to the land of Israel. You will know that I am YHVH, o My people! When I open your graves and bring you out of your graves.”

“When I put My Spirit in you and you live. I shall settle you in your land and you will know that I, YHVH, have done what I said I would do.”