Some world events have the power to heighten our sense of common humanity, like the World Wars, 9/11, the Bali bombing, our drought and bushfires, but COVID-19 reminds us of our absolute vulnerability as it affects our whole country and lifestyle, the family too as members spend more time together, as children’s routines are disturbed and outlets for work and recreation are narrowed. Stress is very real and then there is the sadness of our locked churches where at times like this we can find some solace together.
During difficult times, the words of the Scriptures leap off the page, their meaning sharpened not only by our own circumstances but also by the often much worse plight of others as individuals and whole communities. This Sunday’s responsorial psalm is the De profundis – ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, Lord, hear my voice!’ Pray this psalm and you may be moved to tears, but you will be reassured of God’s intimacy in the response – ‘With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.’
Our present time is a time to work on ‘family Faith’! Family energises us through its groundedness and intimacy. Today’s Gospel story is familiar, as Jesus visits his close friends, a family we’ve met before – the too busy Martha and the prayerful Mary. Yet this encounter is much different as they are dealing with the death of their brother Lazarus.
This is a story we know; all the dimensions of our story are here - friendship, deep love, sickness, death, family support… but also grief and loss, passion, pathos, human anxiety, feelings of inadequacy. This is a story of Jesus' humanness - Jesus with his close friends, genuinely sad and distressed at the death of Lazarus.
Jesus feels acutely the grief of Martha and Mary and we gain fresh insight into these sisters. As expected, Martha goes to meet Jesus but here we see the woman of faith, the woman who needs to talk about her loss. Mary stays inside, needing her own space.
This is Jesus at his most human, overwhelmed at Lazarus’ death. The words in John 11:35 describe a classic and very powerful moment - ‘Jesus began to weep’ – and we discover something very special about the kind of God we have. St Augustine has this to say, ’Jesus wept for us; he wept to teach us to weep, to weep for our own failings, and also for the way in which sin is still active in the world.’ And so Jesus, having reassured Martha that he is the resurrection and the life, calls his friend Lazarus forth from the grave!
In both the Gospel and first reading from Ezekiel, there is a promise to bring people forth from their graves but this is about much more than physical death. For us, each day is full of living and dying. When Ezekiel speaks of God opening our graves, one dimension is about drawing us back from the things that separate us from God… and we do have our own ‘graves’. Think of our daily deaths – personal setbacks, disappointments, family misunderstandings, fatigue, loss of motivation and self-esteem – those aspects of ourselves that we bury. Yes, each of us knows this so well. Our present losses as a result of COVID-19, some temporary, are many – loss of life and health, freedom, peace of mind, settled lifestyle… each has his/her own ‘graves’ - ‘Jesus began to weep’.