5th Sunday of Lent: Reflection on Gospel of John 11: 1 – 45.
As I hold Sadie’s hand in an effort to bring her some comfort, falling tears soak her face. The look of shock and worry draw me in to listen more deeply to her pain. She has been diagnosed with lung cancer, the tumour too close to the heart to operate. Even with radiotherapy, her time is limited. Sadie is facing death and her one hope is that she will be alive to see the birth of her grandchild in three month’s time. The mystery of life and death so intricately bound one to the other. None of us feels comfortable with death. Sadie is desolate, yet she clings to her faith. She is full of fear when she can’t feel God close and she worries that she can’t pray.
Martha and Mary too were distraught when their brother Lazarus was ill and neither did they feel God close when Jesus delayed in coming to be with them. Martha reproached him, saying , “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But because Jesus was her hope in the face of death, she could say, “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask him for.” What faith! Martha knew that death does not have the final word but that from death, a newer, deeper, eternal life springs forth. Martha and Mary recognised the power of God at work bringing life out of death.
Though Sadie is desolate, her faith is strong. However, with the seeming silence of God that she experiences, doubt haunts her too. Maybe she can’t pray at the moment but surely her prayers are made of tears. Did not Martha and Mary weep to the point that it touched the heart of Jesus and moved him to tears also? Like Martha and Mary, Sadie wants to believe that the Lord will not abandon her. She hopes that her trust in Him will be strong enough to see her through the coming months. Though her heart is filled with sorrow, the sign of new life in the expected birth of her grandchild reminds her that life is precious, that the hope of New Life, of Resurrection, comes even in the midst of pain and death. “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” proclaims Jesus. Yes, the power of God is at work bringing life out of death.
These doubts that Sadie is wrestling with at present are like stones of despair that block her total trust in the Lord. To those at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus commanded, “Take the stone away….Didn’t I tell you, you would see God’s glory if you believed.” When Martha and Mary shared their story of loss and pain with Jesus, a glimmer of hope began to stir within them. With the eyes of faith, they saw how the death of Lazarus was invested with divine purpose and significance. In the stone rolled back, the untying of hands and feet wrapped in grave clothes, God had broken through their despair and brought comfort. Martha and Mary experienced a God present and active in their lives.
Where do we find God present and active in our lives, as we are called to announce resurrection and to take away the stone that oppresses people, robbing them of the fullness of life? Could it be, when in 2016, the human family suffered deadly attacks in Nice, Munich and Baghdad, and so many messages of support and solidarity were posted right across the globe? As families wept and grieved at the death of their loved ones, many others showed a strong interconnectedness in dark times. Or when the picture of three year old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body, cradled in a policeman’s arms off a Turkish beach, became a symbol of the suffering of Syrian refugees. Aylan’s picture and the daily TV images of the thousands of refugees on the long trek to safety, moved many in Ireland to come together on a Dublin beach to form a human heart of welcome to the refugees, while they were meeting nothing but closed doors in other parts of Europe.
Perhaps for Sadie to experience what it could mean for her to be given new life, she may be challenged to surrender all and to face the dread of her vulnerability. Or she may be called to let go the fearful questions that invade her mind in the dark of night and to trust, despite all the evidence that is against her. Martha and Mary were open, expectant and ready, believing with all their hearts that new life would come to Lazarus. Like these sisters of Lazarus, for those of us with faith, “death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come” (Anon).
Sr. Marie Mc Hugh OP