Remembering other Palm Sundays

The postings for this Sunday, to date, have ignored the Procession that normally is part of the beginning of our Palm Sunday Mass.

The Gospel that precedes the Procession reminds us of the reason for all this:

Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11

When they drew near to Jerusalem
and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives,
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them,
‘Go into the village facing you,
and immediately you will find an ass tied,
and a colt with her: untie them and bring them to me.
If anyone says anything to you, you shall say,
“The Lord has need of them,”
and he will send them immediately.’
This took place to fulfil
what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Sion,
Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of an ass.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;
they brought the ass and the colt,
and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon.
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road,
and others cut branches from the trees
and spread them on the road.
And the crowds that went before him
and that followed him shouted,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!’
And when he entered Jerusalem,
all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’
And the crowds said,
‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.’

We will miss that, this year, though many will offer something of a visual reminder by putting green branches at their front door.

YouTube offers a way of remembering something of the usual!

Two choices: one, a tour guide’s promotional film, leads you on the journey from Bethphage down the Mount of Olives to the beginning of the Via Dolorosa giving views of the pilgrimage sights on the way; the second, a somewhat chaotic news reel film, gives views of Jerusalem but mostly of the participating crowd (remember crowds?)

Round off this para-procession with one of the Palm Sunday hymns:

All glory, laud, and honour from King’s College, Cambridge

A more rumbuistious Ride on, ride on, in majesty, with brass accompaniment from a church in Ipswich, courtesy of Songs of Praise.

Or, the one you’ll find yourself singing to your self for the rest of the day, a children’s choir signing Christopher Walker and Paule Freeburg’s Sing Hosanna, sung by a children’s choir.

Enjoy.

Pray – especially for the sick and those who tend to them, and for all who find their isolation hard to bear.

Keep safe.

Photographs (c) 2017, Allen Morris. From Bethphage, the site where Jesus began his ride into Jerusalem.

Preparing for the Mass of Palm Sunday

On Sunday we hear a few words from Isaiah, that begin to set the scene for the hearing the account of the Passion of Jesus, as told by Matthew.

The verses chosen for the Lectionary serve that purpose well, evoking the suffering of the Lord, but especially and also his faithfulness and service of God and of us.

The immediate source for those verses are part of a rich section of the Book of the prophet Isaiah, where the Lord and the prophet confront Israel – and now us too – with our sins and failings in our relationship with God and with the rest of humankind. They promise chastisement, but also speak of being set free from the pains of life alienated from the Lord and his goodness.

In these days of our society being so greatly disrupted and with so many people experiencing fear and worry – and in the rest of the world the suffering is very much more immediately and keenly felt – it is good to sit with Isaiah.

There is much for us to take to heart and ponder.

Be sure to bring the fruits of your pondering to the Lord in prayer, and renew your trust in him.

First reading: Isaiah 50:4-7

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

Israel’s Sin and the Servant’s Obedience
50.1
Thus says the LORD:
 “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce,
with which I sent her away?
Or which of my creditors is it
to whom I have sold you?

Behold, for your iniquities you were sold,
and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.
2  Why, when I came, was there no man;
why, when I called, was there no one to answer?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
Or have I no power to deliver?

Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea,
I make the rivers a desert;
their fish stink for lack of water
and die of thirst.
3  I clothe the heavens with blackness
and make sackcloth their covering.”

4  The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.

5  The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
6  I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.

7  But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

8  He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.

9  Behold, the Lord GOD helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
10  Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God.

11  Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire,
and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
you shall lie down in torment.

The Lord’s Comfort for Zion
51 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.

2  Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
that I might bless him and multiply him.

3  For the LORD comforts Zion;
he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4  “Give attention to me, my people,
and give ear to me, my nation;
for a law will go out from me,
and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.
5  My righteousness draws near,
my salvation has gone out,
and my arms will judge the peoples;
the coastlands hope for me,
and for my arm they wait.
6  Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my righteousness will never be dismayed.

7  “Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
the people in whose heart is my law;
fear not the reproach of man,
nor be dismayed at their revilings.
8  For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
and the worm will eat them like wool,
but my righteousness will be forever,
and my salvation to all generations.”

9  Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the LORD;
awake, as in days of old,
the generations of long ago.
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
who pierced the dragon?
10  Was it not you who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep,
who made the depths of the sea a way
for the redeemed to pass over?
11  And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

12  “I, I am he who comforts you;
who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass,
13  and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth,
and you fear continually all the day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
when he sets himself to destroy?
And where is the wrath of the oppressor?
14  He who is bowed down shall speedily be released;
he shall not die and go down to the pit,
neither shall his bread be lacking.

15  I am the LORD your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the LORD of hosts is his name.

16  And I have put my words in your mouth
and covered you in the shadow of my hand,
establishing the heavens
and laying the foundations of the earth,
and saying to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

17  Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.
18  There is none to guide her
among all the sons she has borne;
there is none to take her by the hand
among all the sons she has brought up.

19  These two things have happened to you—
who will console you?—
devastation and destruction, famine and sword;
who will comfort you?
20  Your sons have fainted;
they lie at the head of every street
like an antelope in a net;
they are full of the wrath of the LORD,
the rebuke of your God.

21  Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
who are drunk, but not with wine:
22  Thus says your Lord, the LORD,
your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more;
23  and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
who have said to you,
‘Bow down, that we may pass over’;
and you have made your back like the ground
and like the street for them to pass over.”


The Lord’s Coming Salvation
52.1
Awake, awake,
put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
the uncircumcised and the unclean.
2  Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion.

3 For thus says the LORD: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” 4 For thus says the Lord GOD: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. 5 Now therefore what have I here,” declares the LORD, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the LORD, “and continually all the day my name is despised. 6 Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

7  How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

8  The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.

9  Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10  The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photo (c) 2018, Allen Morris. Isaiah, Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, Marseille.

Preparing for the Mass of Palm Sunday

The Psalm to be sung at Mass on Sunday, in response to the first reading, anticipates some of the actions that accompanied the crucifixion of Jesus, and also sets us before us, in compact form, something of the enormous emotional journey of faith and self-abandonment and trust that the source psalm present. It is a journey which Matthew tells us Jesus prayed from the Cross, and which is revealed to us in the Paschal Mystery, of Jesus’ Passion Death, Resurrection and Ascension.

If you find you have more time available to you at present, you might not only read and pray the full text of the psalm given below, but also identify episodes of despair and trust in your own life.

There may be unfinished business to attend to, and also triumphs of grace (even quiet triumphs) to once more give thanks for.

Psalm 21(22):8-9,17-20,23-24

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

Psalm 22 (21)

1     For the Choirmaster. In the manner of “The Doe at Daybreak.” A Psalm of David.

2     My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
      Why are you far from saving me,
      so far from my words of anguish?
3     O my God, I call by day and you do not answer;
      I call by night and I find no reprieve.

4     Yet you, O God, are holy,
      enthroned on the praises of Israel.
5     In you our forebears put their trust;
      they trusted and you set them free.
6     When they cried to you, they escaped;
      in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

7     But I am a worm and no man,
      scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

8     All who see me deride me;
      they curl their lips, they toss their heads:
9     “He trusted in the Lord, let him save him;
      let him release him, for in him he delights.”

10   Yes, it was you who took me from the womb,
      entrusted me to my mother’s breast.
11   To you I was committed from birth;
      from my mother’s womb, you have been my God.
12   Stay not far from me;
      trouble is near, and there is no one to help.

13   Many bulls have surrounded me,
      fierce bulls of Bashan close me in.
14   Against me they open wide their mouths,
      like a lion, rending and roaring.

15   Like water I am poured out,
      disjointed are all my bones.
      My heart has become like wax,
      it is melted within my breast.

16   Parched as burnt clay is my throat,
      my tongue cleaves to my jaws.
      You lay me in the dust of death.

17   For dogs have surrounded me;
      a band of the wicked besets me.
      They tear holes in my hands and my feet;

18   I can count every one of my bones.
      They stare at me and gloat.
19   They divide my clothing among them,
      they cast lots for my robe.

20   But you, O Lord, do not stay afar off;
      my strength, make haste to help me!

21   Rescue my soul from the sword,
      my life from the grip of the dog.
22   Save my life from the jaws of the lion,
      my poor soul from the horns of wild bulls.

23   I will tell of your name to my kin,
      and praise you in the midst of the assembly;
24   “You who fear the Lord, give him praise;
      all descendants of Jacob, give him glory;
      revere him, all you descendants of Israel.

25   For he has never despised
      nor scorned the poverty of the poor.
      From him he has not hidden his face,
      but he heard him whenever he cried.”

26   You are my praise in the great assembly.
      My vows I will pay before those who fear him.
27   The poor shall eat and shall have their fill.
      They shall praise the Lord, those who seek him.
      May their hearts live on forever and ever!

28   All the earth shall remember and return to the Lord,
      all families of the nations worship before him,
29   for the kingdom is the Lord’s, he is ruler of the nations.
30   They shall worship him, all the mighty of the earth;
      before him shall bow all who go down to the dust.

31   And my soul shall live for him, my descendants serve him.
      They shall tell of the Lord to generations yet to come,
32   declare his saving justice to peoples yet unborn:
      “These are the things the Lord has done.”

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Psalms: From The Revised Grail Psalms: A Liturgical Psalter. (c) 2010.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Image(c) 2014, Allen Morris. Chapel of the San Damiano Crucifix, Church of Santa Chiara, Assisi.

Preparing for the Mass of Palm Sunday

St Paul cannot speak of the Lord without also speaking of the Church and our vocations in Christ. As He is, so we are to be….

Let us pray for each other… for faithfulness and for joy, even in these troubled times.

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

Second reading: Philippians 2:6-11

Christ’s Example of Humility
2.1  So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Lights in the World
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Timothy and Epaphroditus
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honour such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photo (c) 2015, Allen Morris. Musee du Petit Palais Avignon.

Responding to the Mass of the 5th Sunday of Lent

The bleakest fictional writing I know is quoted below.

It contains echoes of the ministry of Jesus, but the author, Oscar Wilde, nowhere names the ‘Doer of Good’, And he need not, because the story is less about him, and more about those who have received good from his hands.

In other words, it is about us – a challenge to how we have received good, and how we use it…

The Doer of Good. A poem in prose, by Oscar Wilde

It was night-time and He was alone.

And He saw afar-off the walls of a round city and went towards the city.

And when He came near He heard within the city the tread of the feet of joy, and the laughter of the mouth of gladness and the loud noise of many lutes. And He knocked at the gate and certain of the gate-keepers opened to Him.

And He beheld a house that was of marble and had fair pillars of marble before it. The pillars were hung with garlands, and within and without there were torches of cedar. And He entered the house.

And when He had passed through the hall of chalcedony and the hall of jasper, and reached the long hall of feasting, He saw lying on a couch of sea-purple one whose hair was crowned with red roses and whose lips were red with wine.

And He went behind him and touched him on the shoulder and said to him, ‘Why do you live like this?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him, and made answer and said, ‘But I was a leper once, and you healed me. How else should I live?’

And He passed out of the house and went again into the street.

And after a little while He saw one whose face and raiment were painted and whose feet were shod with pearls. And behind her came, slowly as a hunter, a young man who wore a cloak of two colours. Now the face of the woman was as the fair face of an idol, and the eyes of the young man were bright with lust.

And He followed swiftly and touched the hand of the young man and said to him, ‘Why do you look at this woman and in such wise?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him and said, ‘But I was blind once, and you gave me sight. At what else should I look?’

And He ran forward and touched the painted raiment of the woman and said to her, ‘Is there no other way in which to walk save the way of sin?’

And the woman turned round and recognised Him, and laughed and said, ‘But you forgave me my sins, and the way is a pleasant way.’

And He passed out of the city.

And when He had passed out of the city He saw seated by the roadside a young man who was weeping.

And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and said to him, ‘Why are you weeping?’

And the young man looked up and recognised Him and made answer, ‘But I was dead once, and you raised me from the dead. What else should I do but weep?’

Use the story to help you examine your conscience, as you re-read and meditate on the Gospel of today. You may not have had opportunity to make your Lent confession this year. Pope Francis offers wise pastoral guidance on the matter.

Gospel: John 11.1-45

The Death of Lazarus
11.1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

I Am the Resurrection and the Life
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Jesus Weeps
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The Plot to Kill Jesus
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photo (c) 2015, Allen Morris. Detail of ‘Demon’ by VA Vrubel. Moscow, Tretyakov Museum.

Preparing for the 5th Sunday of Lent

The story of the restoring of dried bones to the fullness of life is so good that Ezekiel tells it twice. The first as vision, and the second as prophesy; the first given to Ezekiel to see and wonder at, the second for us all to be part of as we learn, by God, to live.

Yesterday evening Pope Francis spoke of the Lord’s call that we might learn to live anew, better, more fully.

The Lord asks us …, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support, and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross, we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross, we have been redeemed. We have hope: by his cross, we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity, and solidarity. By his cross, we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

Lent is always a time for us to learn to let go of those things that keep us from true life – those false goods that impose themselves in the way of what is authentic and good; our fears and doubts that keep us in shadows and at a distance, unavailed of the grace that would enliven us.

This year, the realities of contagion and disruption of our regular ways of life, Lent presents us with grosser challenges, and ones which more evidently impact on how we see ourselves and others, how we seek to live as ourselves and with others.

These realities push us and shove us, and we have to choose how to respond to them. Sometimes our choices are unloving, uncaring, selfish, draw us to spiritual death. May they be only our first choices, and may we quickly learn to repent of them.

We are helped to repentance and to renewal by the example of many, many people who rise to the situation, serving generously, careful for their neighbour.

And we are helped to repentance and renewal by the word of God, speaking to us in the depth of our being, when we allow ourselves to listen, and speaking to call us to the fullness of life, in every circumstance and for ever.

The first reading: Ezekiel 37:12-14

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

The Valley of Dry Bones
37.1
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’

12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

I Will Be Their God; They Shall Be My People
15 The word of the LORD came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ 17 And join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. 18 And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ 19 say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. 20 When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, 21 then say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. 22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”

. . . . .

At the Easter Vigil we hear from the chapter before the chapter above, from chapter 36, where the Lord promises a refreshment, a cleansing to his people, a new heart, a new faithfulness to all that is good and right. That prophesy too has been and is being fulfilled.

Let us pray for each other, that this newness may be fulfilled in us, for our sakes and the sake of the world – may we be witnesses to the Paschal Mystery, of life and light flourishing where it seemed there could be only death and darkness.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photo (c) 2013, Allen Morris. Charnel House, Isola di San Michele, Venice.

Preparing for the 5th Sunday of Lent

The Gospel this Sunday is the third of the great narratives of salvation, healing and new life that are associated with these Sundays preceding the Holy Week and the Great Easter Vigil and the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation which make new Christians.

This year our churches will be empty of the faithful of God, but the restorative, renewing power of God will not be inactive. Our Catholic faith puts great emphasis on the celebration of the Sacraments, but our tradition puts still greater emphasis on the response of God for longing in the human heart for communion of life with him – long has the Church spoken of tings such as Baptism of Desire and Spiritual Communion, certain of God’s communicating love and grace independent of the usual sacramental, symbolic, ritual expressions of his grace.

And so it will be surely this Easter Vigil if prudence judges it better to postpone the sacramental preparation of 100s across the country who wait and prepare as the Elect of God. Keep them in your prayers, as surely they keep us…

The story of Lazarus is a poignant one for us to hear at this time of contagion and suffering, and death.

Can we hold to the truth that our illnesses too do not, of themselves, lead to ultimate death? Only sin does that, and the Lord and the Church work tireless to help us to be free from sin, and free for life and love – life and love that draws us to eternal life.

The exceptional and dramatic story of Lazarus reminds us of the more general and often less startling stories of our lives. Signs and wonders have their place, but as John’s Gospel cautions us we should not be distracted by their excitement and impress from the sustaining truth of how God is everywhere and always…

  • Pray for those who tend to the sick and to the dead.
  • Pray for those who mourn and those who have care for them.
  • Pray for peace and faith and hope – may these gifts lead us still more surely to the living Lord and to eternal life.

Gospel: John 11.1-45

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

The Death of Lazarus
11.1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

I Am the Resurrection and the Life
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Jesus Weeps
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The Plot to Kill Jesus
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,

46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris.
  • Photo (c) 2019, Allen Morris. Bloemaert’s Raising of Lazarus , Manchester Art Gallery