One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.
Our reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is wrtten by Susan McElcheran, who is working on a thesis for the MTS degree. She is a teacher with the Toronto Catholic School Board at Holy Family school in Parkdale, where she teaches students with learning disabilities.
Psalm 130.1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7b-8
We all fear death. We shield ourselves from it by framing it as the consequence of being in the wrong place or making bad choices. Like us, Martha and Mary in today’s gospel want to keep death at a distance, to avoid it: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21;32). The mourners, too, focus on prevention: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (v. 37).
Jesus did not shield his friends by hurrying to save Lazarus, and he showed no fear or worry. He allowed death to take its course, even to the point of no hope and a smell of rottenness (v. 39). Yet, we are told twice that Jesus felt anger in the face of Lazarus’ death (v. 33;38), and that he wept when he saw the grave (v. 35). His lack of fear was not indifference.
Martha expresses faith in Jesus and voices a common belief in resurrection on the last day (v. 24). Jesus’ response, “I am the resurrection and the life,” goes beyond this belief to the concept of “life” which in the Gospel of John expresses the new quality of life that Jesus brings, a life “from above” (3:7), a life in the Spirit which participates in the eternal quality of the life of God (3:5-8). Jesus offers not just continued existence but a superabundant, overflowing quality of life (6:37-39; 11:26).
Like Martha, we have faith but need to hear Jesus say “I am the resurrection and the life.” We don’t realize the gift of life that Jesus offers, not just after death, but here and now. Even now there are parts of ourselves that are wrapped in grave cloths and laid away, lost to hope, so far gone that there is a bad smell. Jesus is with us in these places, does not view our death as a punishment or a threat, and is not afraid. He is able to reach into our places of death and call us out into life, not just more of the same, but an abundance of life that participates in the nature of eternity.