Arise and Be Free
Fifth Sunday of Lent. Fr Lawrence Lew parallels the raising of Lazarus with the sacrament of confession.
Lent, which is an old English word for spring, is our spring-time too. For this liturgical time calls us out of the winter of our sins to receive again the water and light of God’s grace that we need so that we can flourish and grow and become more fully alive in God. Just as those who are not yet baptised will come to new life in God through baptism at Easter, so, at this time, we who are already baptised are also being recalled to a new life in Christ. Often our sins, our weaknesses, frailties, anxieties and addictions entomb us – we become like Lazarus.
Christ who is the ‘resurrection and the life’ calls us forth from the tomb. Hence we’re encouraged in this time to go to confession. For Lent is this graced time in which we are urged to examine our consciences, to do some personal spring cleaning as we consider what needs changing and repenting in our lives so that charity and kindness and gentleness can put forth new living shoots; dry bones and dry hearts can be watered and revived; deeds hidden in the darkness of shame and guilt can be brought into the light of God’s forgiveness and mercy.
I often think of our enclosed wooden confessional boxes as something like a coffin in which, through the Sacrament of Confession, we encounter the risen Christ. In that Sacrament, he speaks the words that restore us to life, and sends his Spirit to revivify our souls in grace. St Paul put it this way in the second reading: ‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you’ (Rom 8:11). Thus the great 20th-century spiritual theologian Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP said: ‘Even the raising of the dead to life, the miracle by which a corpse is reanimated with its natural life, is almost nothing in comparison with the resurrection of a soul, which has been lying spiritually dead in sin and has now been raised to the essentially supernatural life of grace.’ Seen in this light, the Sacrament of Confession anticipates and is a promise of our final Resurrection in body and soul at the end of time.
As the sign of the raising of Lazarus also anticipates God’s greatest sign, which is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, so today’s Gospel is given us not only as an image of baptismal life for our catechumens, but also as an image of the sacrament of Confession for the baptised. It reminds us that just as the catechumens will rise to new life with Christ when they’re baptised at Easter, so we shall also rise to new life with Christ whenever we go to Confession for it is in that Sacrament that we encounter the One who is the Resurrection and the life, ‘the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’ We’re invited today, therefore, to share in St Martha’s faith.
For with faith in Christ and in his divine activity in and through the Church’s Sacraments, then, we believe that Christ himself comes into the world and acts through the Sacraments. In the Sacrament of Confession we believe, then, that even if we die spiritually because of our sins, yet no matter how grave or deadly our sins may be we can be brought to life again through Confession. Thus ‘If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live’. And the Lord then promises that ‘whoever lives and believes in me shall never die’, which is to say that if, after baptism and confession, we remain in a state of grace, fully alive in God, then we shall not suffer eternal death but rather live for ever in friendship with the Blessed Trinity.
Jesus is deeply moved by our predicament, by the tragic situation of sinful Man who, like Lazarus, is bound tightly by his sins and addictions, and entombed in the darkness of shame, fear, and embarrassment. Christ weeps for us, his friends, and he provides a solution: Through his Word which created the universe, Jesus’ word again calls out, and this Word is all powerful to heal with grace, and create anew the saint out of the sinner. Firstly, he commands that we be unbound, which is what the sacramental words of absolution do for us, and then he calls us forth to life: ‘Come out!’
With this summons, which is also a call and an invitation, Jesus invites all of us to come out of the tombs of our sins and go to him in Confession. But Christ doesn’t pull Lazarus out or touch him at all. Rather, Lazarus goes on his own volition: ‘the dead man came out’, we’re told. So, too, we who are dead or even just wounded by sin, must choose to go to the sacrament on our own volition. If we do, we will hear Christ’s words of absolution, ‘I absolve you’, that is to say: ‘Unbind him, and let him go’. Thus God shall raise us from our graves and bring us home, home to himself, as Ezekiel promised.
Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14 | Romans 8:8-11 | John 11:1-45
Image: detail from a fresco of the Raising of Lazarus by Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel, 1305-06, photographed by Steven Zucker
Fr. Joseph P. Thumma
This is a well-written homily. The well made comparisons bring out the application of the scriptures for the day with so much clarity. God bless you Fr. Lawrence.
Thank you for your encouraging homily.
Last weekend our parish held a retreat for the women of the parish.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation was the main theme.
Your homily has been most enlightening, especially comparing our sin to that of Lazarus being bound in the tomb.
Personally I prefer confession face to face. A confessional is claustrophibic!