“Master, the one you love is ill.”

At this particular moment, few lines of scripture cut to the heart like these.  Around the world, they speak for so many of us right now who are anxious, worried, frightened, sick.

Many of us know someone, or know of someone, battling COVID-19. We feel helpless. We can only communicate by phone or text or FaceTime, on Facebook or Instagram. We’re quarantined, sheltered, cut off, alone.

All of us are, in one way or another, crying out to the God who loves us, speaking the same words, asking for intercession:

“Master, the one you love is ill.”

We are facing an illness we’ve never known before, coping with it in ways we have never had to cope with anything before, grieving in ways we have never grieved before. And into all this comes this Gospel.

The illness in the Gospel, of course, doesn’t end the way Christ’s followers hoped. Lazarus dies.

But to everyone’s amazement, that isn’t the end of the story.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus tells Martha. He challenges her — and challenges us —to believe, to have faith, to know hope. To never let go of that simple truth:“Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

And then, to prove his point, he cries out to his friend Lazarus, who answers Christ’s call by literally rising from the dead, leaving his tomb, and beginning a new life.

Life goes on.  Incredibly. Miraculously. By the grace of God.

This is the last Sunday of Lent, before we begin walking with Christ as he enters Jerusalem next Sunday, Palm Sunday. What have these last few weeks shown us in the scriptures? Again and again, in the Gospels we have encountered, we have heard of miracles and wonders, transfigurations and transformations — all leading us to this moment, the ultimate conversion story, the story of a dead man converted to life.

It’s Christ’s message to the world — a preview of his own Resurrection — but also message of transcendent hope.

And it’s a message that we need now, more than ever.

It tells us: life goes on.

Life in Christ conquers fear, conquers doubt, conquers death. It gives new life, a RENEWED life, to all of us.

Reading this Gospel again, and reading over the scripture from the last few weeks, I was struck by something we see here: the presence of the crowd. When Jesus performs his miracles, they aren’t done in isolation. There was no “social distancing.” He did them in the world, among those who needed them, when they needed them.

God came into the world, taking on human flesh, to be with us.

He is with us still.

Whatever else we may be worried about these days, we should never doubt this: we are not alone.

Even in our isolation. Christ walks with us, weeps with us, worries with us.

Two thousand years ago, he heard, “Master, the one who love is ill.” And he responded by giving life and giving hope.

Today, we cry to him again, “Master, the one you love is ill.” The world you love, where you suffered and taught, the world you lived in and redeemed… is ill.

We trust, we hope, we believe that we will all emerge from this challenging time, as if from a tomb, like Lazarus, able to live a new life.  We wait in joyful hope for that day we will again be together, celebrating together, in this church.

Yesterday, the Holy Father offered an extraordinary blessing from the Vatican. It was a powerful, even historic moment of grace: the pope standing before an empty St. Peter’s Square in twilight, as rain fell, raising the monstrance to show Jesus to the world — and offering his blessing.

During the liturgy, Pope Francis said: “This is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.”

That is the message of Lazarus.

It is more importantly, the message of Christ’s own resurrection.

It’s a message for this moment — and it is now, more than ever, a cause for our hope.

“Master, the one you love is ill.”

And our Holy Father offers this consoling reminder:

“With God, life never dies.”


You can watch the Mass featuring this homily below.