Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent Year A
Theme: ASLEEP IN JESUS!
By: Fr. Ben Agbo
Homily for Sunday March 29 2020
* Ezek 37 : 12 – 14, Rom 8 : 8 – 11, Jn 11 : 1 – 45.
The leitmotif of today’s entire readings hinges on the fact that a spiritual man (a friend of Jesus) can never die or be disconnected from the spirit of Jesus.
The 2nd reading argues that if Christ is in you, then your spirit is alife because he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal body.
The gospel therefore begins by establishing the intimate relationship between Jesus and Lazarus as a case study. Jesus’ relationship not only with Lazarus but members of that Bethany home was an intimate but clean relationship – an agape love that was not erotic or exclusive yet deeply emotional as to make him cry or shed some tears, Jn 11 : 35. The gospel begins with this poser to Jesus : ‘The man you love is ill’. It is expected that since charity begins at home Jesus should leave whatever he is doing and rush immediately to save his life before he dies. In the old school of thought, anything after death is an exercise at impossibility. Jesus sees this as an opportunity to let people know that ‘for those who love God everything works onto good’, Rom 8 : 28. Martha captured that faith when she said that she knew that even now whatever Christ asked God will be done.
Jesus embarks on his new teaching about the resurrection in today’s gospel pericope. When he assured Martha that his brother Lazarus will rise again, Martha was clinging to the primitive theology about the resurrection of the dead on the last day. Just like the Protestants talk so much about the rapture theology, 1 Thess 4 : 13 but fail to understand the metaphysical state of the faithful departed before the rapture time. Christ now braves it to tell them clearly that he is both the resurrection and life. Those who believe in him will rise again but his real friends will not even die but are asleep in Jesus. Our Blessed Virgin Mary, for example and the great Saints are still alife and are already in heaven even though the final whistle has not been blown. Check out the parable of the anonymous rich man and Lazarus and you will realize that there is both the immediate (individual) judgment, Lk 16 : 19 – 31 and the final (universal) judgment, Matt 25 : 31 – 46. Lazarus becomes an example because even after 4 days Christ made everything look not like death but mere sleep. He must have been in a state called limbo where no judgment has been passed on him. Remember that it was Christ who actually opened the gates of the kingdom of heaven for mankind since after Adam and Eve, Matt 27 : 51 – 53.
This new teaching is an eschatology with a difference. The old teaching sees death like a destruction but the new teaching sees death like a transition. There is in this new teaching an interplay between sleep, rest and death as theological synonyms.
The intrinsic connection between the three readings of today is the connection between spirituality and immortality : ‘The hour is coming when the dead (who are spiritual) will hear the voice of the Son of God and all who hear it will live’, Jn 5 : 25. Although exile restoration was the immediate context of the 1st reading the promise is the same : ‘I will open your graves and raise you from your graves’. He does exactly that in the case of Lazarus to show an example of what will happen to those who are intimate with Christ.
Why Jesus wept was not just the expression of his personal emotions of friendship and sympathy with the berieved but he saw how people (unbelievers) are often messed up by death because of their lack of spirituality /lack of faith in the resurrection.
Today the whole world have been put under the fear of death by the ravaging forces of the CoDiV 19 pandemic. Let me carefully make the following statements ;
1. This pandemic has a spiritual underpinning and so, as a Priest, I am determined that I will not ‘throw away my stole’, run away and abandon my flock, no matter the situation.
2. I advice that we all as Christians should not throw away our faith in Jesus as both the Resurrection and Life. Even as we watch people ( and even priests) die, we must continue to believe that He is greater than any epidemic or pandemic. Because this epidemic may be a form of spiritual attack against our faith ( especially in Eucharistic fellowship), we must face it spiritually. Fear is the greatest enemy of faith.
3. We must pray for our bishops at this critical time of decision and be determined to follow their directives. On them lies the burden of decision on when and how public fellowships should be shut down or not. Every diocese has a unique situation. Some are trying to place a few preparations on ground before shutting down, if necessary. We should remember that going by our Catholic faith, No priest can say a valid and licit mass if his bishop says otherwise.
The whole target of the Lenten Season is to arrive at a level of spirituality and intimacy with Christ that guarantees our immortality – that makes our death no longer death in the real sense but an experience of being ASLEEP IN JESUS. We must dismiss the fear of death around us. This fear is actually more deadly than any pandemic that has visited us.Friendship with Jesus is what guarantees this immortality. Happy Sunday dear friends!