Is God Absent?
Jesus assures Martha in John's Gospel for this Sunday that her brother Lazarus "will rise again." Jesus says of himself: "I am the resurrection and the life, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25). The resurrection of the dead is very crucial to the Christian faith; it is no wonder the Nicene Creed we recite at masses on Sundays and Holydays of obligation highlights it. Do we believe in the resurrection of the dead?
Death of Lazarus, a dearly beloved friend of Jesus, rocked the world of his sisters, Mary and Martha of Bethany. The Gospel, according to John, relates the sisters' tears and grief over the painful death of their brother. Jesus himself wept when confronted with his death, displaying his humanity and indicating to us that it is human to cry when we lose a loved one. As we continued to be tried by the global coronavirus pandemic, those who have lost loved ones to the virus can connect with the sorrows of Mary and Martha. Like the sisters, they are perhaps wondering if God is absent and no longer involved in our world. The scourge of this invisible agent of death challenges all of us, we live in anxiety and uncertainty.
But we must pause and ponder the raising of Lazarus in today's Gospel. Jesus raised him to strengthen our faith. We must find hope and strength in our faith in the resurrection of the dead as we face the threat of death either directly or indirectly. As we think of thousands who have died in Italy, Spain, China, and even in our country, we must turn to Jesus the living Lord who, in the words of prophet Ezekiel, will open graves (Ez 37:12). St. Paul reminds us of the Spirit of God who lives in us, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 8:11). Like Mary and Martha, we must rise and fall at the feet of Jesus, crying out prayerfully to Him, who will hear our voice (Ps.130:2 ). Jesus is not absent, even in the face of death; he is here with us. Jesus is here to raise our hope by raising Lazarus from the dead, and he assures us of his love and presence despite permitting the tragedy of the plague and death. He is not absent in our time of trials; he is very much present. Do we believe him?
What meaning and use are we making of this time of quarantine? What is the Lord telling us in our bible reading and prayers? God has a purpose for this period of painful isolation, what are his intentions for you and me?
Yours in the Living Christ,
Fr. Bernard Oniwe, OP