RAISING THE “LAZARUS” IN US. HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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The burial of Ezenwanyi was a very spectacular one. Being a famous woman of great wealth and fame, many people attended her burial from various places. It was however not a Christian burial as she did not accept conversion to Christianity before her death after a brief illness. One of her intentions before her demise was that she must be buried alongside her costly jewelleries which included but not restricted to innumerable golden earrings, necklaces and bangles.

On the burial day, a great dispute arose among the family members of Ezenwanyi on whether her last wish was worth implementing or not. Two sides spontaneously emerged. One side condemned the idea of burying her alongside her innumerable jewelleries the value of which could cater for the needs of the living, while others maintained that her wish must be implemented as part of the final respect in her honour. After some consultations, it was resolved that the precious jewelleries should be interred with her. Based on the resolution, the coffin containing her body was stuffed with the costly jewelleries before she was finally laid to rest in a grave dug for her beside her house.

Two days after her burial; by 12 midnight something very mysterious happened! At this point in this story, my grandmother who was the storyteller lowered her voice as if the darkness outside her house was eavesdropping. The mention of “mystery” sent some blood clogging cold air into my circulatory system and I was sure that Chuks, my cousin who was also on a holiday with granny, had the same experience as we exchanged scary looks. In the manner of a skilful storyteller, our grandmother Janet paused a while to make us really get the effect of her story.

Bandits came to the grave, she continued, and dug up the coffin that contained the body of Ezenwanyi. Their intention was to steal the costly jewelleries there. As they opened the coffin, Ezenwanyi who was dead, opened her eyes and sneezed! Instantly the bandits sprang to their feet and fled. Ezenwanyi rose and came to her house and knocked. It was very late and her household had gone to bed a long time. She kept knocking until someone asked who was knocking and she declared that she was the person. Fright took hold of them as they believed it was her ghost. Finally, they managed to open the door though in utter devastation. Coming in still in her burial clothe, she narrated how she came back to life!

The end of the story was so confusing for me and Chuks because we knew Ezenwanyi as a huge and imposing woman around my grandmother’s neighbourhood. Our grandmother added that Ezenwanyi could do strange things including dealing with defaulting children when called upon. From that moment, granny would always mention Ezenwanyi if she wanted compliance from any of us. But beyond the compliance strategy, I kept wondering how a dead person could come back to life!

For the past three weeks now, we have been encountering some indispensable phenomena in our Sunday readings. Last two weeks it was about water, last week it was about light and this week the focus is on life. If water and light are indispensable for life, then without life we have lifelessness and there will be nothing to talk about! Life is of utmost value and a lot of premium is attached to life. Among the Igbos of southeast Nigeria, life has many designations that are articulated in some names like: Ndubuisi (life comes first), Ndukaku (life is more valuable than wealth) Ndubuaku (life is wealth), Ndunagu (hunger for life), Ndunaka (life is a determinant).

The First Reading today (Ezekiel 37:12-14) presents us with the oracle of the prophet Ezekiel declaring that God will open the graves of his people and put His spirit in them and they will live. In the Second Reading (Romans 8:8-11), St. Paul expands the discussion on the Spirit of God that gives us life. Without the Spirit we are lifeless. The gospel reading (John 11:1-45) presents us with the long drama that accompanied the raising of Lazarus to life. We shall we using the gospel reading as the platform for our reflection while touching on the other reading. We are thus reflecting on the theme: “Raising the Lazarus in us”.

The name Lazarus has its root in Hebrew where it is designated as Eleazar and it means “God’s help” or if you like “divine assistance”. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha and they lived in Bethany; they were friends of Jesus Christ. Words came to Jesus that Lazarus was very ill but he did not go immediately; he took two more days. With God no time is too late; He is the Lord of time. Our Lord took two days to confirm the fact that he is the Lord of both the living and the dead.

By the time our Lord arrived, just as he confirmed to his disciples on the way, Lazarus had died and was in the tomb for four days. Many people had gathered to console Mary and Martha over the death of their brother. When Jesus arrived, the sisters declared at various instances that “IF JESUS HAD BEEN AROUND LAZARUS WOULD NOT HAVE DIED”. This declaration is saturated with a lot of meaning. Here we discover faith in the power of the Lord to stop death and give life. Here we see a confirmation of the fact that God can make a lot of difference in any situation that confronts us.

Another scene in the entire episode that needs to be attended to is where Jesus was deeply moved by the sorrows of the bereaved and upon seeing where Lazarus was buried, he wept along with them. The question is why did Jesus weep since he was after all going to raise Lazarus from the dead? Jesus did not weep because the case was hopeless. Jesus did not weep because he was incapable of raising Lazarus up from the dead, he already told the disciples that he was going to do just that. He wept along with Mary and Martha to show that he feels our situation; anything that affects us touches him personally; he empathizes with us.

 On another level, Jesus wept over the death of many souls who would not rise with him because they were disconnected from him during their lives on earth. Hence the tears of Jesus was beyond the death and mourning of Lazarus to the deaths and sorrows caused by sin in the world. The tears of Jesus is for us today an invitation to penitence and conversion.

The raising of the dead Lazarus by our Lord took some notable salutary steps. First our Lord asked them to remove the stone that covered the tomb. At death, there is always a separation; more like the stone that built up a dividing line between Lazarus and the rest of the living. This is actually what sin does; creating a barrier between us and God (Isaiah 59:2). Next he looked up and offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God. In all things we are required to give thanks to God (1 Thess. 5:18).

Then with a loud voice our Lord Jesus Christ said “Lazarus come out!” It is by spoken words that God created and there is power in His words. (Heb.4:12). At that command Lazarus came out but with hands, feet and face wrapped with burial clothe and our Lord said “Unbind him, and let him go!” And it was done. There are still many people who assume that they are living but are still going about with hands, feet and face bound. Many of us are in one bondage or the other. Like Lazarus we need to be untied especially during this season. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to set us free so that we can indeed be free not just thinking that we are free (John 8:36).

Raising the Lazarus in us at this time requires us to seek for God’s help (assistance) at all times; like Mary and Martha sent for Jesus to attend to their ailing brother. Whom or what do you turn to when you have similar challenges? Raising the Lazarus in us is a call to unfailing faith and trust: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Raising the Lazarus in us requires our being ready and willing to remove the stone that is blocking us from having a direct divine encounter. It is worthy to note that if the stone was not removed Lazarus would not have come out. The stone stands for sin and obstacles to our faith, healing and renewal.

As we gradually march towards the celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord let us be aptly concerned with raising that Lazarus in us. Have a blissful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

(fatherbonny@hotmail.com)

 

 

 

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