Conversing with God in time of COVID-19

40 Shades of Lent, Sunday Week-V, Year-A, 29 March 2020

Ezekiel 37:12-14 +++ Romans 8:8-11 +++ John 11:1-45

Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos last March 22, 2020 during our procession of Blessed Sacrament in the Parish when a rainbow appeared at the horizon.

Once again as we near the closing of our Lenten journey, Jesus does another “sign” or miracle — his last and grandest in anticipation of his coming Passion, Death, and Resurrection: the raising from death of his friend Lazarus.

What is so beautiful in this story is how the evangelist involves us his readers and hearers into a conversation with Jesus unlike last Sunday at the healing of a man born blind where the characters conversed only among themselves.

The raising of Lazarus to life is more engaging because it is deeply personal and intimate as it involves friends dearest to Jesus — exactly like each one of us! And that is why it is also very timely as we go through the ongoing lockdown due to COVID-19.

When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

John 11:4

My dear family and friends, Jesus assures us today of the Father’s love and healing, that he would save us from the deadly corona virus. Come and let us converse with him with the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.

After my “private Mass” (Missa sine populo) during the Solemnity of the Annunciation, 25 March 2020.

Presence of Jesus

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

John 11:21-22

Twice do we hear this line in this very long story of the raising of Lazarus when Mary repeated it upon meeting Jesus later at the entrance of their town of Bethany.

And like Martha and Mary, we always say it to Jesus too as if he ever leaves us alone!

“Lord, if you had been here…”

Jesus is always with us.

We are the ones who always leave Jesus behind.

We always have so many other things to do, so many other people to meet that we have no time to truly pray and most of all, celebrate the Sunday Mass every week.

It is my hope that following the suspension of the “public Masses” due to lockdown, people now realize the value of the Holy Eucharist which is the “summit” of our Christian life where we are nourished by the words of God and strengthened by the Body and Blood of Christ.

Photo from Forbes.com via Facebook, 2019.

Long before we were told to observe “social distancing” in this time of pandemic, we have long been distant from one another and from God.

How ironic that these modern means of communications were invented to bring us closer but have actually brought us farther apart! Most often, we are close enough with someone miles across the seas but too distant and cold to persons physically near us, even seated beside us.

Let us spend more time with our family and most especially with God in prayer during this enhanced quarantine period to be the presence of Christ with one another. Let us remember Fr. Patrick Peyton’s expression, “The family that prays together, stays together; a world at prayer is a world at peace”.

Remember: the most wonderful and enriching relationships we can have are those rooted in Jesus Christ who is always present in us.

Jesus is perturbed and deeply troubled

While praying over this long gospel, this photo by Raffy Lerma kept on flashing in my mind, showing me how Jesus must have reacted upon seeing Mary weeping over the death of her brother Lazarus.

He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept.

John 11:33-35

Like our gospel today, Lerma’s photo of a mother crying over her son lost to “tokhang” at the height of this administration’s war against drug in July 2016 is very conversant, so moving like the Pieta by Michaelangelo in Rome. In fact, the government doubted the veracity of the photo, claiming through its trolls it was merely “staged” or “drawing” as we say in journalism. The photo is authentic because the event truly happened. And continued to happen before this lockdown.

What I like most with this photo is the composure of the mother. You can feel she was deeply sad and troubled, weeping without the hysterical theatrics or palahaw in Tagalog that we see in many instances like funerals.

Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, January 2020.

Multiply that to the highest degree and we get the image of Jesus “perturbed and deeply troubled, weeping” at the death of his friend Lazarus.

There is the gentle yet firm mastery by Jesus of the situation, of the loss and tragedy.

No hysterics nor theatrics. Pure and all-encompassing presence.

It would be the same mastery and composure Jesus would exhibit at his coming Passion and Death, reaching its highest point on Easter.

Here we find Jesus Christ truly human, truly Divine. Yes, he was perturbed and deeply troubled; he cried and wept not because of weakness but rather more of strength, of being true and determined in overcoming not only his coming Passion but most of all, our own setbacks and losses.

Have faith, my dear reader. Jesus is surely “perturbed and deeply troubled, weeping” again with us in this time of the corona pandemic. Step back and let him be himself in being one with us; then, wait and see what he is going to do next for us.

Photo from theguardian.com, 19 March 2020 reporting how a “generation has died” in Bergamo, Italy struggling with 1959 deaths from corona virus that has overwhelmed the nation’s funeral sector.

Jesus joins us in death so we can rise to life in him

Today is not a beautiful day to die, especially for victims of COVID-19. No wakes. No Masses. Just simple blessings after cremation. If ever possible.

The scenes from Italy are deeply disturbing that has become the new epicenter of corona pandemic. According to a report last Monday, the obituary page of a local newspaper had increased tenfold in a week, listing up to 150 deaths daily! More disturbing is the fact that “death and mourning happen in isolation”.

Our readings this Sunday speak a lot about death symbolized by graves.

But not on a morbid sense like a defeat or a loss; rather, as a victory, a raising to new life!

Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live.

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Ezekiel proclaimed these words of the Lord to the Israelites during their Babylonian Exile when they lost everything and everyone, including God as they thought have forsaken them for their sinfulness. This prophecy is finally fulfilled in Christ’s coming and victory over death on Easter.

In calling back Lazarus to life, Jesus shows us in this scene his tremendous power over death and defeat, agony and pain, sin and evil. It is a prefiguration to a grander scale of his own Resurrection on Easter after the Good Friday.

And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

John 11:43-44
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News. Used with permission. Seen here from atop the GMA Network Center in QC is Mt. Samat in Bataan with the Memorial Cross visible, across the Manila Bay, taken on 26 March 2020.

Do you believe this?

Jesus is calling us to have faith in him, to believe in him especially in this time of COVID-19 pandemic. And like his question to Martha which he repeated twice, the Lord is asking us the same question today:

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

John 11:25-26

Do you believe in him, Jesus the Christ?

Good things have also been happening lately in this two-week old lockdown.

Families are again getting together, staying together. Finally we now have more time than ever to converse once again as husband and wife, children and parents, brothers and sisters.

Some people have rediscovered God and are back to praying again, to believing again.

Even Mother Nature is said to have taken a big break during this lockdown, giving us spectacular views never seen before due to cleaner air, less pollution and congestion in the cities.

These are all conversations going on – thanks to COVID-19!

Let us join the conversations with our loved ones, with nature, with our self, and with God.

Below is one of my favorite photos this week taken by GMA-7 reporter Mr. Raffy Tima. Again, another photo conversing with us, like Jesus in the story of the raising to life of Lazarus.

See the Memorial Cross on Mt. Samat in Bataan?

The raising of Lazarus is the “sign” or miracle as the other evangelists would say, that prefigures the definitive victory of Jesus on the cross.

Like the sisters of Lazarus, believe in Jesus who is awakening us today amid the threats or crosses of corona virus to bear all these sufferings, to passover like him to the life that bodily death cannot touch “through his Spirit dwelling in us” (Rom. 8:11). Amen.

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