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3/29/20 Fifth Sunday of Lent - Fr. Reggie

St John points out that "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." And yet, in spite of his love, Jesus doesn't rush back to Jerusalem to heal Lazarus. Nor does he heal him from a distance, as he did with the Centurion's servant. Jesus loves these friends, and yet he lets them suffer. He lets them experience their helplessness and weakness, the painful separation of death and the loss of a loved one.

Did he do it to punish them? Did he do it because he had no power to remedy the evil? 

No, he let them suffer precisely because he loved them.  If God protected us from all suffering, we would make the mistake of thinking that earth is heaven, that we could make ourselves truly happy just by our own efforts. But we live in a fallen world, a world in which suffering is inevitable. And God allows us to experience that suffering as a way to remind us that life on earth is a journey towards heaven - it's the path, not the goal. The goal is heaven, and the resurrection of Lazarus is an appetizer of heaven.

What matters in life is not being perfectly comfortable: what matters in life is knowingloving, and following Jesus Christ. Jesus uses our sufferings to help us to do that more and more. Our sufferings remind us that we are not God; they make us turn to God. He uses them as opportunities to act in our lives in new ways, revealing himself to us more completely, just as he did with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.

In this way, he shows that his Providence is more powerful than even life's greatest tragedies.

Nothing is out of reach for Christ's redemption.

If this life were our final destination, there would be no way of finding meaning in the tragedies of life.

But since we are pilgrims here on earth, making our way towards eternal life in heaven, we can rest assured that if God permits harsh weather or difficult stretches along our journey, he has his reasons.

This is a key part of Christ's core message: through Good Friday to Easter Sunday, through the Cross to the Light.

This is why we call the Church on earth the "pilgrim Church."

There is a story of a Christian merchant who lived a long time ago.  He was riding home from a long business journey with a leather satchel full of money attached to his saddle. As he was riding along through an open plain, a storm broke out. He spurred his horse, but the plain was large, and by the time he reached the woods he was soaking wet. As he entered the path underneath the trees, it stopped raining, and he slowed his horse to a walk. He began complaining to God about the weather and discomfort it was causing him. Suddenly, a bandit jumped onto the path in front of him, leveled a musket at the merchant, and pulled the trigger. For some reason, the gun didn't go off, and the merchant spurred his horse into a gallop and got off unharmed. The rain had dampened the musket's powder, making the gun misfire. As he continued his journey, the merchant thanked God for his life, and for the rain. He never complained about the weather again.

The resurrection of Lazarus is undeniable proof of God's power and love, proof that when he lets it rain in our lives, he's got his reasons.

To say that God's Providence includes tragedies does not turn tragedies into comedies. Lazarus being raised from the dead didn't erase the experience of pain and loss that Martha and Mary went through during his sickness and after his death. Jesus rising from the dead on Easter Sunday didn't erase the indescribable pain and sorrow of Good Friday.

Just so, our sufferings and struggles really are sufferings and struggles. And we must never think that our faith in Jesus will make them go away. We will always have to suffer and struggle in this life.

But Jesus has given purpose to our sufferings and struggles.  We know that he allows them for a reason, just as a good coach pushes his players beyond their comfort zone, no matter how much they complain. When we accept Christ's cross in our lives, even through our tears, we grow in wisdom and spiritual maturity - just like Martha in today's Gospel passage.

Having purpose in our suffering also makes it possible for us to have peace in our sufferings. Christ has proven that he will bring great things out of the greatest tragedies. And so, when storms of evil rock our boats, even while we struggle to keep afloat, in our hearts we can be at peace.

Jesus wants us to have confidence in him, to trust him no matter what. 

Today, let's grant him his wish. 

In a few moments we will pray the Creed. When we do, let's pray it from the heart, expressing our unlimited confidence in Christ the Lord. 

And when he comes to us in the Eucharist today, let's ask him to strengthen all hearts that are still seeking purpose in their sufferings.


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