Sunday, March 18, 2018

Open Our Graves And Rise

A year 2000 Oscar-winner was Gladiator.  Early in the movie Maximus, a Roman General and later the Gladiator,  rushed from the battlefield to defend his wife and young son from Roman soldiers who turned against him at the command of the new emperor.  He arrived too late and found them burned and crucified at the entrance of their home.  Kneeling beneath them and reaching up to touch their feet, he wept uncontrollably. A courageous man wept for the ones he loved. 

So does Jesus in this Gospel passage – one of the few times we hear that Jesus cried.   But in this case it’s the one who will be crucified, Jesus, weeping for the one he loved – Lazarus, a name that means: “one who has been raised from the dead.”  The author of the Gospel of John and this story written decades after Jesus’ death appears to have picked the name “Lazarus” because of what it meant.

What’s happening in the Gospel, and why is it relevant to our catechumen-elect, Evan, who will come into full communion with the Church on Holy Saturday evening?  What does it mean to “bring someone back to life – to be raised from the dead?”

Helping us answer this question is the first reading.  Referring to the downhearted and deadened, exiled Jewish people in Babylon, through the Prophet Ezekiel we hear God say, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them...I will put my spirit in you that you may live.”

Then in the second reading in the letter of St. Paul to the Romans we hear: “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”

The key word in these readings is Spirit. We rise from our graves and we live when the Holy Spirit dwells in us. This happens when there is a sealing with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we will witness a sealing very soon.

At our Easter Vigil  Evan will receive this gift through baptism and confirmation. He will receive the Eucharist.  In very spiritual way, his grave will open; he will rise; and he will live through the Holy Spirit dwelling within him.  It will be a very special moment in Evan’s life – in our lives too as witnesses.

What about all of the rest of us who already have received these sacraments?  What can Evan learn from us? The answer lies in the Gospel where Jesus says to his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.”

Last week we heard in the second reading in the letter from St. Paul to the Ephesians, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will give you light.” Because of our daily struggles with pain, loneliness, addiction, feeling unloved, and fear, many of us have forgotten that we have that light; we are asleep; we need to rise from the dead.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “If one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”  Jesus is like an alarm clock jolting us awake.  He is like a light switch lighting the room, and then he says: “I’ll roll away the stone that keeps you in your grave.  Come out!  Get out of bed, and with me holding you, you won’t stumble.”

But we do stumble.  We stumble when we hurt others through verbal or physical abuse.  When we ignore the needs of the poor and hungry – when we refuse to forgive or ask for forgiveness.  When we are indifferent to injustice.  Jesus weeps for all of us when we stumble.

There are so many ways to stumble and fall and to cause Jesus to weep.  Here’s one way shown through this story.

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and a four-year old grandson. The old man's hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered.  The family ate together nightly at the dinner table. But the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult.  Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor.  When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. "We must do something about grandfather," said the son.  I've had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.  So they placed grandfather at a small table in the corner where he ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed their meals at the dinner table.  Since grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl.

Sometimes when the family glanced in grandfather's direction, he had a tear in his eye because he ate alone.  Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp warnings when he dropped a fork or spilled food.  The four-year-old watched it all in silence.

One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor.  He asked the child, "What are you making?"  The boy responded, "Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and mama to eat your food from when I grow up."  The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Tears started to stream down their cheeks.  Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.  That evening the husband took grandfather's hand and gently led him back to the family table.

For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth was soiled.  

The manner in which the grandfather was first treated causes Jesus to weep.  But the tears stopped because the Holy Spirit spoke through the little child, and his parents listened.

As we approach Holy Week, we must remember not to cause the ones we love to weep. We must no longer be asleep, but awake and compassionate to those who need us.  Jesus tells us to rise from the dead.  This we need to hear because we are all like Lazarus in need of a resurrection.

Deacon David Pierce

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please THINK before you write!