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Bishop's Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 26, 2023

[St. Raphael Church, Koloa]

There are some very nice looking tombs in the world.  The Taj Majal, the Pyramids in Egypt, and even the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC are quite striking.  They are all different, but they all contain dead bodies, rotting away over the passage of time, as the body of Lazarus began to do after he was in the tomb for four days.

But when Ezekiel is talking about people rising from their tombs, he is talking to those who are alive but still live in tombs that lead to decay and decline as much as any tomb in a cemetery.  Their lives may look normal and full of activities, but the prophet knew they lived in tombs of despair, of hopelessness, of sin, and of darkness.

So it is good for us to reflect on the tombs we already are in, even as we are alive.  Some live in the tomb of isolation, either because they have lost a loved one or are rejected by others.  Some live in a tomb of addiction that slowly but surely erodes their bodies and spirits.  Others live in a tomb of hopelessness because they are so overwhelmed with the burdens of life that they feel they can hardly carry on.  Some live in a tomb of routine, bored with life and what they perceive as lack of excitement in it.  Others live in a tomb of hatred or hurt, holding on tight to past hurts or grudges.

Jesus is here, just as he was in Bethany, to call us out of our tombs, to have us rise from them.  And just as he did with Lazarus, he wants us to untie those who are called out so that they can go free.

But first we must let Jesus out of his tomb.  Yes, we know that he rose from the dead 2,000 years ago and that the tomb in which he was laid is now empty and venerated as the place of his resurrection.  But we still find ways to put Jesus back in his tomb.

Sometimes we put Jesus in a “textbook tomb,” thinking of him only as a person who lived in history, long ago and far away.  He can easily be tamed this way, and we can take him or leave him if he is only a historical personage.  Sometimes we can put Jesus in a tomb of neglect, simply not paying attention to him, not attending Mass, or not praying to him every day.  Sometimes we let Jesus out of his tomb selectively, allowing him to live in the light of day when he is there to comfort us or when he teaches us things that inspire us.  But when he challenges us to “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel,” we would rather lock him away in a tomb of silence.  We don’t want to hear that he expects us to respect all life, from conception to natural death.  We don’t want to know that he expects us to use our talents to bring his Good News to the world, when it is much easier to just live our own private lives.  Sometimes we do not want him to tell us to live in chastity, or to share our goods with the poor, and so we “put him in his place,” rolling the stone across the cave of his challenging teachings.

Today, of course, we see a great miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  We might wonder if Lazarus really wanted to be raised from the dead, since he was in a place of rest and peace.  Yet whether he wanted it or not, Jesus called him out of his tomb so that he could be involved in the fray of life a little longer and be a living sign that, when we listen to the voice of Jesus, the doors of any tomb can be broken open, no matter how putrid they may seem inside, and no matter how beautiful they may look outside.

We prepare during this Lenten season to celebrate the greatest event in the history of the world, the death and resurrection of Jesus.  But we do so in order that our own tombs may be burst open, and so that we will stop putting ourselves, others, and even Jesus back in the tombs of decay.  Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, and it is here in the Eucharist that we encounter him most intimately.  It is here that we can express the faith of Martha and Mary that there will be resurrection, because Jesus not only promised it but introduced the reality to our world.  He wants very much to untie us and let us go free!