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For Sunday April 2, 2017

Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year A)


Ezekiel 37:1–14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6–11
John 11:1–45

A guest essay by Sr. Nancy Usselmann, FSP.  Sr. Nancy is the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies and a Media Literacy Education Specialist. She has degrees in Communications Arts and a Masters in Theology and the Arts from Fuller Theological Seminary.

 Look of Hope

I was recently walking on a busy city street on St. Patrick’s Day with all the revelers heading to the pubs and showing the effects in their loud and obnoxious behavior. I was struck by a homeless man hunched in the corner of a building on the sidewalk, easily overlooked by the passersby.

I went up to him to give him some money since I could see by the sadness in his eyes that he simply wanted to be recognized as a human being instead of being treated as the scum of the earth. He just wanted to wash his clothes, and was appreciative of the assistance I gave him. I looked him in the eye and grabbed his hand, saying that I will be praying for him in a special way. He looked at me with sad, grateful eyes.

 Wall painting of Jesus raising Lazarus, late 3rd century catacomb.
Wall painting of Jesus raising Lazarus, late 3rd century catacomb.

That encounter has touched me and haunted me at the same time. Tears well up in my eyes every time I think of that gentleman who was seriously down on his luck and despairing of hope for a change in his circumstances. I pray for him, that God’s Spirit will manifest himself to this man in a powerful and transformative way and offer him a resurrection moment.

An article I read recently talked about a homeless addict who became a priest. He wrote that at the very moment of despair he walked by a church and felt pulled to go inside. That changed his life forever. He put himself into rehab, changed his lifestyle, and entered the seminary. Now he is a priest serving the poor, addicts, and prostitutes on the streets of Montreal, guiding them and helping them transform their lives. A true resurrection story.  

 Jesus raises Lazarus, medieval fresco.
Jesus raises Lazarus, medieval fresco.

Hope of Resurrection

These two stories may seem unrelated, but in their essence they are about new life and the Spirit of God at work in the world.  In John’s gospel chapter 11, Jesus waits to visit his sick friend Lazarus, and then visits only after he has been in the grave four days.

Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, distressed by their brother’s death, offer the most profound professions of faith recorded in the gospels. Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, yet even now I know that God will grant whatever you ask of him.” She believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. She believed that he can overcome any situation, any power, any circumstance because he is God.

Jesus proclaims, “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies, will live.” What a statement! If we die, we will live.

Only by reflecting on this statement deeply, from the depths of the soul, are we able to grasp the seeming contradiction as a truth of our ultimate destiny as human beings. Only through death will we find life. Only when we hit rock bottom can we move upward. Only in our suffering will the Spirit transform our lives. We see this not only in the gospels but also in the lives of the two homeless men I mentioned. One became a priest. The other is still wandering, but I pray that the Spirit opens his heart to truly live.

 Jesus raises Lazarus, 6th-century mosaic, Ravenna.
Jesus raises Lazarus, 6th-century mosaic, Ravenna.

Our Journey to Life

We may not be wandering the streets homeless, but, if you are like me, we are all still floundering and seeking in a world that seems bent on oppressing us. We may feel that we cannot seem to catch a break, as so many homeless people experience. Life seems to go well for brief moments of time, but those are present only so we can handle the dark moments with greater strength.

Those oppressive, gloomy moments can be the opportunity for the Spirit to enlighten our minds and hearts. Paul so eloquently says in Romans for this week that human nature of itself can only look forward to death. But the Spirit, that lives within us as baptized Christians “looks forward to life and peace” (8:6).

Our natural inclinations, he says, lead to despair and death. In moments of darkness it is easy to give in to the natural realm, which is to give up in despair. But Paul reminds us that if we live according to the Spirit, not giving in to all our natural inclinations, but trusting the grace of the Holy Spirit to transform us, then we find our resurrection moment. We find hope. We see the Spirit at work in our lives.We can see with the eyes of faith that there is more to life than this finite world can offer. We have life with our Triune God who cherishes us, loves us, and desires our good.

 Gravestone of a Christian named Datus, 3rd century catacomb, with Jesus raising Lazarus.
Gravestone of a Christian named Datus, 3rd century catacomb, with Jesus raising Lazarus.

Mary and Martha believed this, and Jesus gave them the gift of their brother’s natural life back to them. He raised him from the dead. Believing in the Spirit’s work in our lives raises us up from our natural inclinations to sin, out of the oppressions of human living, and offers new beginnings. The Spirit gives us life when life seems most bleak. These can be the resurrection moments of our lives if we turn to the Spirit in trustful surrender and unshakable faith.

Image credits: (1) Brooklyn College; (2); (3); and (4) University of the Holy Land.

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