March 26, 2023
Revised Common Lectionary
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (7)
John 11:(1-2) 3-7 (8-16) 17 (18-19) 20-27 (28-33a) 33b-45
Death is a powerful and persistent presence in our midst.
Every day we hear of people losing their lives in natural disasters, mass shootings, and gang violence. The World Health Organization estimates that since the beginning of the pandemic in 2019, nearly 7 million people have lost their lives to the coronavirus. More than 50 thousand people have been confirmed dead because of the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Ukraine on both sides since the Russian invasion last year.
And, of course, we experience death personally in the loss of family members and friends. We can easily relate to Jesus, Martha, and Mary as they deal with the death of Lazarus in today’s Gospel reading. We too have known the pain of loss, and so their grief provides an opportunity for us to consider death and life in relation to faith in Christ.
Mary and Martha were deeply disappointed that Jesus had not arrived in time to prevent their brother Lazarus from dying. When at last he meets them, however, he is fully present to the moment. He joins them in weeping for his friend and shows love and compassion for the sisters in their sadness.
Like others who meet Jesus in the Gospel of John, Mary and Martha are invited into a journey of faith. Each of them begins by saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:21, 32). Both sisters acknowledge, if somewhat reproachfully, Jesus’ special relationship with God. Yet Martha dares to push further, voicing confidence that God would grant whatever he might ask.
Jesus responds boldly with one of the seven “I AM” sayings of John’s Gospel—key texts in which he asserts identity with God. In this instance he proclaims to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (Jn 11:25). He does not merely claim power over life but declares that he is the life.
Jesus invites Martha in plain and direct language to make an act of faith: “Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:26) She responds by offering one of the clearest confessions of faith recorded in any of the Gospels: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (Jn 11:27).
While the story we hear today is about coming to faith in Jesus, it is also about new life. By raising Lazarus from the tomb, Jesus prefigures his own resurrection from the dead. Unlike Lazarus, who resumed his place in society, Jesus would be raised to a completely new and transformed life. The Gospel writer invites us, like Martha, to recognize Jesus as the resurrection and the life, the promised Messiah, and through our own baptism, to enter into the new life that he has inaugurated in his own rising from the dead.
The community of baptized believers is by no means a group of death deniers. We are aware of death in the world around us and we know that one day we too will experience physical death. Yet baptism is our entrance into a life beyond death, not only at the end of our lives, but right now. Yes, eternal life awaits us, but it begins right here.
When we place our faith in Christ, when we stake our lives on him, then the Spirit of life takes root within us, and “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to [our] mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in us” (Romans 8:11). Even as we confront death in the world around us and among those whom we love, we dare to entrust our lives—and theirs—to Christ. We can embrace even death in and with the one who is himself the resurrection and the life.
A Hymn for Today: “For You, My God, I Wait”
The Lectionary for this Sunday includes Scripture readings that proclaim life in the midst of death, including the Hebrew Scripture reading that recounts Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones coming to life and God’s promise to bring the house of Israel back to life. Psalm 130, a cry to God “from the depths,” (Ps 130:1), may be sung or read following that reading. In this psalm we join the psalmist in calling to God, knowing that we cannot overcome sin and death by our own power. Only God’s forgiveness and mercy can do that.
Mennonite hymn writer Adam M. L. Tice structures his poetic paraphrase of Psalm 130 around the attitude of waiting that is expressed in the original text. While the biblical psalm begins “out of the depths,” Tice saves this key motif for the final stanza in relation to the psalmist’s trust that God hears our cries. Listen here.
For you, my God, I wait
with hope born of the Word.
Like sleepless ones who long to dream
I wait and call my Lord.
Lord, hear my pleading voice,
and let me know you hear!
As sleepless ones feel rest approach,
I know my God is near.
If you should list my faults,
the sins of heart and hand,
like sleepless ones who groan at dawn
I know I could not stand!
For even from the deep
I know you hear my cries.
Like sleepless ones who dream at last,
I ease my weary eyes.
Text: Adam M. L. Tice, b. 1979. © 2011, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tune: SPRINGTIME (Ward)
Image Credit: Take Away the Stone, John August Swanson, 2005
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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