This morning’s Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent:
“Take away the stone”
Over the past two Sundays and this morning we have heard those wonderful long Gospel stories of the encounters of three people in varying degrees of need with the Lord.
First we heard of the Woman of Samaria – a woman whose heritage stems from the deportation of the Kingdom of Israel into Assyria where her ancestors were forced into mixed marriages and the faith of their Forefathers’ was corrupted by pagan practices. This woman knows enough of her heritage to know that her marital state is more than complicated. Yet she comes to see Christ as her deliverer, and as the source of her future hope.
Last Sunday, we heard of the healing of the man born blind, and in that very moving account we see how he has been blind from birth, and of how, once he has been healed, he experiences a lack of support from those who know him, rejection by the spiritual leaders of his people and even to a certain degree rejection by his parents. The account concludes with his encountering the Lord once more, but this time the Lord, having heard of the rejection he had experienced at the hands of others, sought him out, and the encounter between them is so tender.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him.
And this morning we hear the final of these three encounters, that of Jesus with Lazarus. Of course, the encounter is also with Mary and Martha, and it is to their encounter with the Lord that we turn first.
We are used to thinking of Martha as the one who is distracted by all the domestic work that needs doing as part of welcoming a guest; and of Mary as the one who takes the spiritual path of sitting and listening to the Lord. However, in this encounter Mary has to be coached out of the house, as she is sitting there consumed by grief. Then when she does come to meet Jesus, she is seemingly accusatory in her opening words to the Lord, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” It is Martha, however, in this encounter, who pours forth that wonderful declaration of faith: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”
Then there is the encounter with Lazarus. It is a remarkable encounter, at least in the telling, because we are not told what they said to each other after the Lord raised Lazarus from the dead. The Lord orders that the stone sealing the tomb be taken away, he prays, he says loudly, “Lazarus, come out.” And Lazarus emerges still bound with bandages. And then Jesus orders those gathered to “unbind him, and let him go.” But we are told nothing else.
So we must look at the episode with closer eyes – in particular I want us to think of the matter of the stone. The stone represents all that inhibits life, Lazarus has been sealed away from life, cut off from those he knows and loves not only by death, but by physical barriers – human constraints keep him isolated – for the bodies of the dead, in Jewish Law, are unclean; and if you came into contact with one, you became unclean. But the Lord orders that the stone be taken away, that the barrier preventing life, human socialisation and love be removed.
Perhaps in that there is something for us to ponder in our hearts this morning with Our Lady, as England is rededicated at Noon today as her Dowry. The stone had to be taken away for life to begin again. That stone inhibited life, love and social interaction. At times in our lives that stone can be symbolic of the situation that we find ourselves in.
Like the woman of Samaria we can be in a moral mess, and can have made our lives so complicated that we worry that we have no future, no chance of forgiveness, nor even a life that is filled with hope rather than despair.
Like the man born blind we can be blind, not only physically, but also blind to the real identity of Jesus Christ. Like the blind man it may be that we have had signs of real hope, only to have them dashed by the intransigence or weakness of others.
Like Mary we can find ourselves at one point very close to the Lord, and then subsequently distant from him. Like Martha we can find ourselves distracted by so many things – even in parish life, by what we think is important in our Parish Churches, that we lose our spiritual perspective; but then like Martha through the experience of some deeply personal event come to a greater love and knowledge of the Lord.
Like Lazarus we can be kept bound and sealed off from life – that is our real life in Christ. It is the enemy who so often does this with his lies and schemes. That stone – whatever it is most be taken away at the Lord’s orders.
And so we must make our appeals to him, we must hammer on the doors of heaven with our prayers.
In this land at the moment we are facing one of the worst contagions since the Spanish Flu of 1918. Yes, we must abide by what the Government is asking of us, but as Christians who believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, we should have recourse to prayer. We must pray that God would take this pestilence away, for common-sense to prevail amongst all people, and for all those affected by this virus, and those who care for them in the NHS and in the wider community. May the Lord take this stone away, may he order that we be unbound and set free ……….that life may be set free.
Let us pray:
Lord, enable us to continue to serve our suffering brothers and sisters in peace that together we may glorify thy most honourable and majestic name of the Father + and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.