Fifth Sunday in Lent – St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Alexandria, LA

Alexandria, LA at St Francis Xavier Cathedral

Jeremiah 31, 31-34 + Psalm 51 + Hebrews 5, 7-9 + John 12, 20-33

With one week full week left in this season we are led by the Church through the readings for this day to come face to face with the paradox of salvation and the contradiction found at the heart of our faith between the cross and glory. This touches the very core of our faith, and it tests the very strength of our hope. The strongest and most basic human instinct is survival and the will to live, yet death is even stronger; and death casts its pall over human life. It calls into question everything we try to achieve, and no matter how far we may try to look ahead, death is the horizon of human life.

Probably more than we care to realize, death may be the greatest human motivator there is. The fear of death lies beneath every other fear and is at the heart of selfishness. “Get it now. Keep it now. You may not get another chance” is the thinking in the heart of darkness. Death, the ultimate separator, the final condition that leaves us separated from one another and even from God is the one last consequence of sin to be removed, conquered, and replaced by God which leads us to the cross and our observance of Holy Week.

Every sickness, every ailment, every evil that has separated God’s people from one another has been challenged and conquered by Jesus in the Gospels. Lepers were cleansed and restored to their place among God’s people. Sick children are restored to their parents, the blind and the lame get up and walk with Christ among his followers. Outcast tax collectors and sinful women are no longer cast out but included. Samaritans and Romans are drawn into faith and included among those who know God’s healing and forgiving love. One last thing remains, and we get a hint of what is to come when the story of Lazarus is told and he walks out of a tomb by the command of Christ.

Time after time, Jesus willfully identifies with and in a sense, takes the place of those he invites and leads to faith and hope. When he touches lepers and sinners, when he eats with tax collectors and goes into the home of a enemy Romans, he becomes one with them and is one of them in the eyes of his adversaries. One last enemy, one last evil, one last sickness is yet to be touched and shared: death. In doing so, everything will be complete and everything that separates us will be destroyed. There is no place to go now except to Calvary.

John’s Gospel touches on the power our fear of death has on us as he reports the anguish of Jesus in the verses of today’s Gospel. Then John goes on to unfold the plan and wisdom of God with the directive that we are to abandon our doomed desire for self-preservation, our singular attachment to this mortal life, and reach for the life Jesus has promised and will soon reveal in his resurrection. The death he will experience is his final and complete embracing of our human lives. By accepting the most terrible death that could be imagined he leaves out no one and no death so conformed is he to our human experience.

The glory of is death is found in the totality and completion of God’s will in the mission of Jesus Christ. Once it is finished, as Jesus proclaims on the cross, there is nothing left except new life bursting out of a grave. Death is no more. Fear is finished. Life is the promised fulfilled. This is the mystery of the cross then that makes it a sign and a promise of glory. For us it becomes now a sign that the most feared thing in life is dismissed as easily as a  blind man comes to sight, and a lame man picks up his mat and walks. This is the glory that awaits all who follow Christ into a grave. It is what we shall promise and proclaim to those who have asked to see Jesus and share the life and glory he found through obedience to the will of his Father who wills nothing more or less for us than that we share in unending Divine Life.

Father Tom Boyer