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March 21, 2021
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Third Scrutiny)]
We all know what a dead end street is, but we use that expression figuratively when we refer to some behavior or pattern we have that will lead us nowhere. Addictions can often be dead-end streets, because they bury us under tremendous self-destruction, self-hatred, and often the destruction of relationships. Gossip can be a dead-end street because it shuts in our nobility against the light of day and decays other people’s trust in us. Promiscuous sex can be a dead-end street, because it always demands more and more excitement but without true human satisfaction. Cynicism can be a dead-end street because it slams the door tight shut against hope. I am sure we can think of many other examples. These all, in a very real way, lock us away in a tomb that will bring nothing but decay to ourselves and others around us.
The Gospels are not just stories of what Jesus did long ago, but stories of what he can do today. So when we hear of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, calling him out of his tomb, we remember that story so that it can remind us of how we are Lazarus, by all the dead-end things we do. They can shut us up more tightly in a putrid tomb than any huge stone rolled across its entrance. And so we celebrate these Lenten days of repentance, so that we can honestly confront all the dead-end actions of our lives and obey the Lord’s command to “Come out” and be set free.
Today we celebrate the Third Scrutiny for the Elect who will be fully initiated into the Body of Christ at the Easter Vigil through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. In this Scrutiny we ask them to do what we have been doing throughout Lent, to examine themselves, scrutinize their souls, look deeply into their actions, so that they can give up the dead-ends and embrace the Way that opens us to infinite, eternal life. We ask them to recognize the putrid decay in their own lives and to let Jesus call them out on it, so that they can be washed, anointed, and given the light that will lead them on the road to salvation. As Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb 2,000 years ago, he calls all of us out of our tombs today.
It is interesting to note, however, that this is sometimes a slow and painful process. Lazarus was sick for many days before he died. His sisters and the disciples wanted Jesus to snap his fingers and heal him at the moment the matter was brought to his attention. But he stayed where he was for several more days. Perhaps the Lord knows that if we are to truly be free of the dead-ends that rob us of life, we may have to sit with them for a while, accept them in their putrid horror, and realize how they decay our very souls. And then, when we have really scrutinized ourselves to fess up to our sins and even to the causes of our sins, he is moved to tears of mercy and calls us out, directing others to help us become unraveled from the complicated ways we have buried ourselves in sin.
It is also important to note that sometimes, in calling us to life, Jesus makes life more complicated for us. While many mourned the death of Lazarus, there he was, resting in peace, no longer sick, no longer having to get up every day to go to work, no longer having to suffer the trials and challenges that normally come with life. And Jesus was not afraid to call him back into the fray, so that he could better fulfill the mission that God had for him of giving witness to Jesus. Sometimes we lock ourselves in tombs of comfort, not paying attention to the sick, the homeless, the poor, and the suffering around us. Sometimes we live in the beautiful tomb of the church, where everyone is so lovely and supportive. Jesus knows that this, too, can be a dead end. So he calls us out of the tomb of complacency so that we can take the risk of going out into the light of day to share the Good News of Jesus with all we meet, whether they accept us with joy or reject us with scorn. He depends upon our voices to call others out of their tombs of self-centeredness and to open them to the light of living forever in the Lord.
What utter amazement and joy there must have been that day in Bethany when Jesus called a man decaying in death out of the tomb to live yet again! What utter joy there will be when we allow the same voice of Jesus to say to each one of us, “Come out!” and to command that we be untied so that we can truly be free.