A New Horizon
Fifth Sunday of Lent (A) | Day of the Rededication of England to Our Lady as her Dowry: Fr Leo Edgar on disasters and the promise of victory.
In the early days after the end of World War II, a revival of devotion to Our Blessed Lady emerged in England as people recognised with a sense of great relief that the conflict was over, and peace could reign again in the land.
And so it is with a sense of joy that today is being celebrated throughout the land as a day of thanksgiving for the protection of this holy sceptred isle to the Mother of God. For it must always be with a sense of the need for protection that we turn to Mary in our prayers, asking her to intercede for us with her Divine Son for protection. And what better time to seek her protection than now, as we face a worldwide pandemic of major proportions that threatens our equilibrium. How often history tells us a story of mankind recognising that only God’s intervention can prevent major disasters. And when we need God’s help, who better than the Mother of his Son to be our intermediatrix.
The gospel passage today tells of perhaps the most major personal disaster of all: death. Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, has died, and we’re told of the reaction felt by the two sisters of Lazarus when Jesus arrives to console them. On the one hand Martha runs out to greet Jesus before he reaches the house and appears to reprove him for not being with them earlier – “my brother would not have died if you had been here!”
On the other hand, Mary remained in the house with the mourners, only coming out to meet Jesus some distance away, when her sister calls her. But Mary too tells Jesus that her brother would still have been alive, had he arrived sooner.
But Lazarus is dead! Dead and buried! Of that there is no doubt. The mourners confirm it. Is that why Jesus delayed setting out to Bethsaida, when he surprised his disciples by waiting two whole days before making the journey? Maybe! But what is perhaps most significant in the Lazarus story is about Jesus himself, and the lead up to his own death and Resurrection.
Before raising Lazarus from the dead, he said to Martha, in their conversation, “I am the resurrection and the life … whoever lives and believes in me, though he dies, he will live … and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
It is this theme of raising Lazarus from death, to a new life, that helps to prepare us for the coming of Easter, that moment when Jesus himself has died at the crucifixion, and then, after three days,returns to the world to confirm those words for us. When we believe in Christ, even though we surely die, we shall be raised again to life through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection – eternal life!
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans speaks of, “possessing the Spirit of Christ in you”, and when we can truly clam to have that Holy Spirit living in us, we can be certain that we too can look forward to our own resurrection, from death to new life. Mary and Martha had that Spirit in them, which enabled them to recognise the power that Christ has. Having encountered Jesus they recognised that he could have prevented their brother’s death, but instead he allows this tragedy to reveal his power and glory.
During the period of Lent, readings such as these help us to focus on our own mortality, and to be aware of the promise Jesus gave the world when he uttered those words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life”, and revealed its promise in the raising of Lazarus.
In his encyclical, “Deus Caritas est”, Pope Emeritus Benedict said that “being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
During the remainder of Lent we are called to experience that encounter with Jesus in our daily lives, and to allow him the opportunity to change our lives, so that we can appreciate the new horizon he offers us, and be open to a new direction for each one of us, one that points beyond death to eternal life. But also we encounter suffering, anxiety, pain as we get closer to the resurrection. Standing beside Mary at the foot of the cross we can share our suffering. Calvary is not a place for the faint-hearted. But through our re-dedication to Mary, we have a certain hope that she will help us, and that with God even our disasters can be turned to victory in Christ.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a stained glass window by Douglas Strachan in the church of the Holy Trinity in St Andrews.