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.”

Wednesday, 25 March 2020 : Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, at the moment exactly nine months before the date of Christmas, as this date commemorates the very moment when Our Lord and Saviour was conceived in the womb of His mother Mary, when she responded to the revelation of God’s Good News through the Archangel Gabriel which marked this moment of the Annunciation, when God finally revealed the arrival of His long awaited Saviour into the world.

On this day we rejoice greatly because of this event which heralded the beginning of the whole process of the story of salvation, as the long awaited salvation promised by God has finally come, through a humble and young Virgin in the small and backwater village of Nazareth in Galilee. The Archangel Gabriel announced to her that she was to become the Mother of the Saviour, and since He is also the Son of God Most High, she would also become the Mother of God.

Such a news brought by a great Angel to that young woman would have surprised and rocked anyone’s lives tremendously, and evidently Mary was also surprised and did not expect to hear such a revelation. Yet, it is her response to the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel that we need to pay close attention to, as she humbly listened to the Archangel and obeyed the Lord’s words and will, with her now famous words of acceptance and total submission to God’s will, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me as you have said’.

It is indeed interesting to see how God chose to come into this world in such a way. But this is because He wants to share in our humanity, by His incarnation in the flesh, assuming our fullness of humanity in Jesus Christ, born of Mary, His mother, to bring forth the fullness of God’s salvation to all of His people. And we focus our attention today to this wonderful occasion and especially on the amazing woman whose faith in the Lord can truly inspire us all in how we live our own lives.

We compare the response of Mary to the response of Ahaz, the king of Judah that we heard in our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah. At that time, the king Ahaz also received revelation from God through Isaiah, of the coming of God’s salvation to His people. But Ahaz refused to accept the sign, saying that he would not put God to the test even when the prophet Isaiah had specifically said that God had asked Ahaz to ask Him of anything. This shows a lack of faith and obedience on king Ahaz’s side, and contrasted him to Mary.

King Ahaz of Judah led the people of Judah further into sin, as according to the Chronicles and the Book of Kings, he did not follow or obey God’s laws and ways unlike some among his forefathers. Thus, his lack of faith can indeed be contrasted to Mary’s total submission to God, his pride and false humility contrasted against Mary’s humility and devotion to God. Mary is the role model for all of us, as her obedience and willingness to accept her role as the Mother of God and Saviour is something that all of us as Christians should also emulate in our own lives.

In this season of Lent, which the Solemnity of the Annunciation’s date often falls within, all of us go through this time of renewal and purification as we prepare ourselves for the celebrations during the joyous season of Easter. And especially this year, our Lenten season have been filled with lots of uncertainty, sorrow and grief, challenges and trials, obstacles and difficulties as most of the world has, and is now still currently suffering from the current coronavirus pandemic and the disease it caused, COVID-19.

More than ten thousand people had died over the past few months and hundreds of thousands are suffering from this sickness, with millions and tens of millions more being affected in various ways, many have lost their jobs and means of living, many have been affected because of the impact this pandemic had on the economy and much of global movement and dynamics of peoples. Many people suffered, and suffering, and will suffer because of this current plague that is claiming more and more victims with every passing moment.

However, despite the darkness and sorrow that surrounded us, despite all the seemingly difficult and tough challenges that are suffocating us with their tight grip, we must realise that we must have faith in God and put our trust in Him while obeying His will and entrust our lives and our whole existence to His care. On this day of the Solemnity of the Annunciation, we are reminded once again that despite the darkness and all the uncertainties in our world, God’s promise of salvation is a reality, and He will always fulfil what He has promised to us.

On this day we celebrate God Who willingly assumed our human existence and chose to be incarnate in the flesh, dwelling in the womb of Mary, His mother, that through Him, Our Lord Jesus Christ, a new Light of hope may be born into this world, dispelling the darkness and all the evils that have been surrounding us, affecting us and enslaving us under their power. We are called today to look upon this Hope and Light we have in Christ, and put our trust in Him even in these difficult and darkened times.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, amidst this difficult crisis and this terrible pandemic, let us all entrust ourselves to God just as Mary had done, and humble ourselves before God, seeking His forgiveness and mercy, and also forgiving each other our faults and shortcomings to one another. Let us all grow ever stronger in faith and in our love and devotion to God, and let us all have no fear of what is to come, knowing that God is always by our side. Let us all take good care of one another and pray for each other in this turbulent times, that the darkness will soon pass and everything will be fine again.

May God be with us always, and may He bless us all and our families, and may He be with all those who are currently sick and dying, and be with those whose loved ones have been afflicted, that He will comfort them, console them, guide them and heal those who are sick. May God bless our world and His Church, and dispel the darkness and evils from our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020 : Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 1 : 26-38

In the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. He was sent to a young virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

The Angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Mary was troubled at these words, wondering what this greeting could mean. But the Angel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for God has looked kindly on you. You shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call Him Jesus. He will be great, and shall rightly be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the kingdom of David, His ancestor; He will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and His reign shall have no end.”

Then Mary said to the Angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And the Angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the Holy Child to be born of you shall be called Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth is expecting a son in her old age, although she was unable to have a child; and she is now in her sixth month. With God nothing is impossible.”

Then Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” And the Angel left her.