The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower;
all who come to him will live for ever.
In this fifth week of Lent as we continue to prepare ourselves for Christ’s Passion and the glorious celebration of Easter, the lectionary readings touch on stories of peril and refuge. God hears Susanna’s prayer and saves her from false accusation and death (Dan 13). God extends his mercy to a contrite tribe of Jewish people who grew tired in the desert and grumbled in hopelessness and despair. He hears their cry and restores peace. God promises to protect and cherish Abraham; he promises to remain with him and makes an everlasting covenant with him: I will be [your] God (Gen 17). And we read of Jeremiah’s faith and trust in this pact (Jer 20). These are stories of the saving power of grace for those who believe, and each day this week we sing some of the most beautiful psalms extolling God’s nearness and refuge to those who call upon his name, even in times of distress. From ash to water, over and over again, God promises: I will be with you.
Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side.
~ Ps 23
O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
In the day when I call, answer me speedily
~ Ps 102
In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
I love you, O Lord, my strength,
O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
~ Ps 18
In From Ash to Water, Fr. Luis wraps up his discussion of our encountering Jesus by focusing on the beautiful gospel from John, the story of Lazarus Raised from the Dead. In many parishes this reading is the capstone to the scrutiny rites, and in my own journey through RCIA, my pastor celebrated this scrutiny by having us all prostrate ourselves on the floor as a symbol of our dying to new life. I love the reading not only because it reminds me of this beautiful moment in my own story, but because each time I read it, I encounter a Jesus who weeps.
The Jesus I encounter in this gospel is not weeping because his beloved friend Lazarus is dead, but this is the traditional reading of the gospel. To me, that has never made sense because after he receives word from Mary and Martha, he tells us with certainty, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.” Then he intentionally stays away long enough to insure Lazarus dies so that he may raise him from the dead.
Lazarus has died.
And I am glad for you that I was not there,
that you may believe.
Why would he weep at the tomb if he knows Lazarus will live? Could it be that he is weeping because even his beloved, closest friends still doubt him?
In the Gospel of John, Lazarus’ sister Mary is the one who anoints Jesus and dries his feet with her hair, but instead of going out to meet him as Martha does, “she sat at home.” Martha in her usual zeal goes out to greet Jesus, but he must remind even her, “I am the resurrection,” and he says to her again, “do you believe this?” and “did I not tell you?” When Mary learns Jesus has asked for her, she rises quickly and runs out to meet him. She falls at his feet and dissolves into bitter sobs, admonishing him by saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” He takes in the scene, Mary sobbing and everyone else crying, and at that point John tells us, he grows deeply troubled. He sees their despair, and then there’s that word ‘perturbed,’ which some scholars translate into a groan in spirit. He is deeply troubled, in my opinion, at their lack of faith. His dearest friends! And so he weeps in the way you or I would when we feel alone and misunderstood by even those closest to us. To me it’s as if he almost rolls his eyes upwards toward God when he says, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” Translation: Father I believe in you even if they don’t. YOU hear me, even if they don’t. Jesus weeps because even his most beloved disciples abandon their hope in him. Not only does this gospel passage foreshadow his resurrection in the raising of Lazarus, but the way I read it closely, it’s filled with the tenderness of Christ’s betrayal and abandonment on the cross, when he will again cry out in a loud voice, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
These stories and songs are infused with our human cry but in their words is over and over again the divine answer to our prayers. They are filled with hope and healing, and leading into Holy Week, they not only prepare us for the Passion story, they can be salve for our sadness. Taken alongside the readings from John, who again and again reminds us that the way to salvation and healing is through belief in Jesus and the One who sent him, we gather to ourselves the greatest story every told, and the peace that passes all understanding.
: This is our last chance–the last week of Lent. What will you bring to the cross? Close your eyes and hold this burden in the palm of your hand. Contemplate for just one moment what you’re trading it in for, if you’re ready to let go.
: As you look back over your experience with the book, with the way(s) you’ve encountered Christ in scripture, prayer or through the liturgy at your parish, perhaps in your own Lenten practices, what would you say has made you more aware of God’s presence in your life this Lenten season? Spend some time in quiet this week, outside or in some place you find beautiful, and allow this awareness to surround you. Let it fill you with peace, light and love, with a greater sense of trusting that your needs will be met by a God who again and again says, I will be with you, always.
P R A Y E R
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone
If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Do not fear: I am with you;
do not be anxious: I am your God.
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Whenever you’re ready, click on the green link to read these beautiful spiritual affirmations for the upcoming week.