A number of years ago my husband and I took a trip to Ireland. We had a wonderful time driving all over the country, including a trip to a lead and silver mine in County Galway. There were not that many visitors that day, so we were treated to a private tour inside the mines. Donning our hardhats we went down into the earth and saw the veins of quartz, silver pyrite, lead, and other materials. It was fascinating, but I do remember feeling just a bit more than glad when we resurfaced after spending 20 minutes or so inside what felt like the bowels of the earth. (It was not really all that far down, I am sure!) I was not at all frightened, but I do remember feeling quite happy to see the sun once again when we emerged and to know we were out of the dark beneath the surface.
This week the readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent (Year A readings) are about coming out of our graves and coming into the light. The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel is a message from God to the people saying "I will open your graves and have you rise from them." He says, "I will put my spirit in you that you may live..." God wants us to have life. He wants us to be in the light, filled with the graces He desires to lavish upon us. The reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans also talks about God desiring to give us life through the Spirit dwelling in us. God is so consistent in His message and in His promises! In the Gospel we hear that Lazarus was dead for four days before Jesus brought him back to life. We also hear that Jesus deliberately waited when He knew Lazarus was dying in order to bring glory to the Father. Therefore Lazarus was in the dark place of the dead, called Sheol, long enough to have had a longing for the light, though we can only speculate as to what it may have been like for him.
The key to all of these readings is in the Psalm antiphon: "With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption." (Psalm 130) The Lord wants us to have life, which means He wants us to be filled with His love and with the graces that bring us joy and fullness of relationship with Him. But He knows that sin is what keeps us from the fullness of life in Him. He knows that our own sinfulness and weakness keeps us from being who He made us to be, that is, our true self. But notice that what He wants to give us the most is mercy and the fullness of redemption. He does not want to give us condemnation. He wants to give us mercy and all the redemption we need to overcome our shortcomings and failings. It is that mercy that helps us rise out of the dark place of sin that we continually fall into.
During Lent we are encouraged to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is a sacrament that we should go to as often as we can, not just because we are sinners, but because we are loved sinners! The Sacrament is a gift from God and it is where we find mercy and fullness of redemption, not judgment and condemnation. I always say that better we avail ourselves of God's mercy and redemption now, then get to the day of our judgment at the end of our lives and find out that we chose the judgment and condemnation because we were too fearful to have chosen the mercy!
An analogy I like to use is the following: Imagine you dropped a penny on the floor every day. What's a penny these days, eh? But after a while not only is the floor getting covered with pennies so that you are slipping and sliding, but it is starting to add up. Then one day you discover that all those pennies have created a wall such that you can no longer see what is on the other side. The pennies are like our sins. Even small venial sins add up to bad habits. They can pile up, like the wall of pennies. They seem like “no big deal” and so we do not pay attention until one day we have walled God out. The Sacrament is when we choose to “own up” to what we have done or have failed to do, and we begin to willingly take down that wall. However, we need help to do it, so we call upon God to help us. He helps us to tear down the wall as we ask His forgiveness and grace to strengthen us. But the best part is when the wall is down: He is on the other side, not with a wagging finger lecturing us for our stupidity and weakness. Rather, He has His arms outstretched while saying, "I have missed you! I am so glad you are back!" That is what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is like for each of us. He only wants what is between us to be taken down. He wants us out of the darkness of sin and into the light of His life. Habitual sin brings death and decay to our relationship. Reconciliation brings light and life.
When Lazarus died Jesus wanted to teach us by letting the event take place. When He went to Bethany to go to Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus was first greeted by Martha, then Mary, Lazarus' sisters. Both the women said the same thing, one after the other: "If you had been here, he would not have died." But they were not scolding Jesus. Instead they were making a faith statement. It was like they were saying: “We know who you are and what you can do.” They accepted the reality of who He was and therefore trusted Him. Jesus, knowing He was about to raise Lazarus, still wept! Being compassion, He felt the sorrow of those around Him and joined them in their pain. He did not simply observe their pain: He felt it. This should not surprise us, since He was soon to take on the sin of the world and the pain it causes, so why would He not take it on here, also?
Jesus thanked His Father in advance of the miracle, and then commanded, "Lazarus, come out!" Lazarus was resuscitated; he was not resurrected. Though this was a preview of sorts of what was to come, no one resurrected before the Lord Himself did it. And the rest of us, including Lazarus, have to wait until the Second Coming to have resurrection. But nonetheless, Lazarus came out of the tomb, alive again. He was in the darkness of sin and death, but now he had new life. In a radical way Baptism will do this for the Catechumens in a few weeks; Confirmation will give new life to both the Catechumens and Candidates, and the Eucharist will give new life for us all. We are anticipating that new life, and to do so, we need to begin the process now. That is why we need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can begin to let the Spirit lead us from the darkness of sin into the new life of Easter.
Maybe it is time we let the Lord command us to come out of the tombs of whatever is dying of neglect within us or what may be leading us down the road to spiritual death. No one likes to talk about their own sin and no one likes to admit that they are on the wrong path, but truth be told, we are all sinners and we are all in need of liberation from our tendencies. But we must always remember that we are loved sinners and that God knows we are imperfect. In fact, that is why He sent His Son: to save us from ourselves. He is already doing the work of redemption in our lives, so maybe we need to let Him say to us: “Come out!” I don't know about you, but I want to respond to His call and go from the darkness into the light!
May we have the courage to face that which is holding us back from coming into the light! May we hear our names called as the Lord commands us to come out of all that keeps us from Him! May we accept the grace to indeed come out of the darkness! May we have the faith in the promise of God for mercy and fullness of redemption! And may we have the increase of love that we need to share that mercy with others as we live the life of true disciples! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of our Lord who alone can offer mercy and fullness of redemption! Peace!
I took all the photos in various locations in Ireland in 2006.
Heart Speaks to Heart