Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent Year A
Theme: “Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:43-44)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday March 29 2020
“An elderly man of Italian descent lay dying in his bed. While suffering the agonies of impending demise, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite anisette cookies wafting up the stairs.
“Gathering his remaining strength, he lifted himself from his bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort, gripping the railing with both hands, he crawled downstairs. With labored breath, he leaned against the doorframe, gazing into the kitchen.
“Were if not for death’s agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven, for there, spread out upon waxed paper on the kitchen table were hundreds of anisette cookies. Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife of sixty years, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man?
“Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself towards the table, landing on his knees in a crumpled posture. His parched lips parting, the imagined wondrous taste of a cookie was already in his mouth, seeming to offer a taunting revival.
“The aged and withered hand trembled on its way to one of the cookies at the edge of the table when it was suddenly smacked with a spatula by his wife. ‘Back off!’ she said, ‘They’re for the funeral.’” (Original source unknown)
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:43-44)
While one unfamiliar with the life of Jesus and the ensuing Christian tradition may view this as a singular miraculous event, well do we know that, in fact, each of us is Lazarus. And not only does Jesus promise us the eternal life of heaven after our physical death, even now, while our feet still trod earth’s pathways, he calls us forth into a deeper experience of life. A richer life now, the richest life to come: that is Jesus’ gift to us who believe.
And so, with our hearts and minds anchored in this truth, we Christians can look physical death in the face and laugh for we know it’s not the end. We can laugh heartily at the story of the dying man hoping for just one anisette cookie before he climbs into his grave. We can laugh at his wife’s apparent insensitivity to her spouse’s final plea. We can laugh because we believe.
And if we Christians can stare death in the face with a grin on our own, surely can we also snub our noses in defiance at the smaller deaths preceding life’s final gasp on the threshold of heaven’s gate. As our once youthful, energetic bodies begin to remind us that they need gentler handling than in former days, our response could well be anger or depression. As our bodies seem to turn on us, insisting that though we still feel exuberant as teenagers, we’re something quite other, our response could well be to shake our fists at God.
But the story of Lazarus that we hear in today’s gospel is also our story. Since we will surely rise, we Christians can look physical decline in the face and laugh for we know it’s not the end, only the doorway.