5th Sunday of Lent (A)
April 6, 2014
NOT IN THE FLESH, BUT IN THE SPIRIT!
Mourning the death of someone you love and feel very close to, is most difficult. Presiding over funeral services of the same person is even more trying. But it can also be difficult to find the right words to say in the presence of family who has just suddenly lost a loved one.
People, on occasions like these, can be overeager and overzealous to help. In their desire to make the bereaved feel better, they thoughtlessly and cluelessly say words like “Don’t be too sad. It is God’s will. Just accept it and you will feel better.”
In their desire to sound consoling and empathic, they also say: “I know exactly how you feel. But God has a plan for you.” Some others would mutter something like: “Don’t be upset. He or she is in a much better place now.”
They are nice-sounding words, but the times I have gone through mourning myself, I was angry with God. And I wasn’t too sure at that time that it was really God’s will. And thanks, but no thanks, I really felt miserable for a long, long while, even after I have pledged “acceptance” of God’s will. Oh … please, you don’t know how I feel. Don’t rob me of the right to feel what I feel by invalidating it and making light of it, like as if you are an expert on how other people feel! Oh, and one more thing … I am upset. And knowing that he or she is in a much better place right now, does not really put me in the mood to party and frolic and have a nice time cause he or she is now in a much better place.
I was in grief and was mourning … and emotive as I by nature was (and still am), I was often in tears, with a big lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away, despite my having accepted God’s will.
Today, Jesus mourns with you and me and everyone else who has ever felt the dagger-like pain of losing someone dear. He had not come to the house of Martha and Mary to tell his friends that Lazarus was in a much better place. He did not speak at all about God’s will and thus rubbing in the painful reality of loss that stared them in the face. He did not tell them not to be upset.
He himself was upset. He himself was moved. To tears. To painful feelings associated with great loss. To action. Salvific action. To life!
Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer, came to suffer with Martha and Mary. He did not disenfranchise them of their real grief. No … he validated their grief. He grieved together with them. But as Savior and Redeemer, he talked, not about death, but about life. He did not deny death. No, but he declared victory over death by calling Lazarus to life, as foretaste and foreshadowing of the ultimate victory he would later claim when he himself would rise from the dead.
I am still sad when thoughts of those close to me who have gone ahead come flooding through my natural flash disk memory bank. Sometimes, a short burst of searing pain shoots through my chest and I would momentarily be paralyzed once more in grief. That comes from hindsight … I remember things past and I realize once again for a fleeting moment that there are things and people in my life that won’t ever come back ever again.
But Christian memorial that is not stored in mere human flash disks does not base itself on mere hindsight. It is also based on insight – a view to things that go beyond what our mortal eyes can see … the view of faith that tells us, yes … “Your brother will rise!” Jesus did not tell Martha and Mary, “Lazarus is not dead,” but “your brother will rise.”
This is the insight of Christian faith. It is based on the promises of the Lord that the Lord Himself has come to fulfill “I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.”
The Lord Jesus then proceeded to do “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard of.” He raised Lazarus to life and proved that what He said was true: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
I still see dead people around and dying people around me. I also cannot avoid seeing the very same mortality that I need to be facing myself sooner or later. I still shed tears at having to confront untimely losses. I still feel miserable when persons close to me bid good-bye, and people close to me tell me in deep pain of their own stories of losses. Like Martha and Mary …. Like Jesus, too, I don’t need to hide my tears.
But today, I need to proclaim the foresight that this hindsight and insight of Christian faith tells me – the foresight of Christian hope, associated with Christian love – the love of God for me and for suffering humanity – that I was created, and born, not for death, but for life.
By his passion, death and resurrection, Christ has claimed you and me for his own. I am not meant to be in the flesh, but to be in the spirit! The lines of that song just wouldn’t leave me right now … We will run and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength and we will fly like the eagle. We will rise again!