There is Hope in the Midst of Gloom
Ezekiel 37:12-14 Romans 8:8-11 Gospel, John 11:1-45.
Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent. We are gradually approaching the Great Paschal celebration. The readings of today encapsulate not only the celebration awaiting us but the deep solemn moment we are into.
In this lenten season, the Church is deeply immersed in prayers, fasting, abstinence and penance.
We are commemorating the sufferings of Our Lord Jesus Christ as He undergoes moments of suffering and agony.
During the time of this agony, it would be as if all hope is lost. Hence, the readings of today are lighting our hope that in God, there is nothing like endless hope.
There is a sign that still, something good is coming despite the suffering and difficulties of the moment. So, the church uses this Sunday to let us know that our lenten observances are not in vain.
The readings of today are littered with messages of hope, and the need to have faith in Jesus, who is the resurrection and life.
In the first reading, God promises to raise His people from graves and lead them back to the soil of Israel.
In the second reading, God promises even if our body is dead in sin, if Christ is living in us, the Spirit of Jesus can still give life to our mortal bodies and finally, at the time when all hope is lost, Jesus came to raise Lazarus from the dead.
Therefore, at the time we think we are already dead in sin, challenges and gloom, there is still hope in Christ Jesus. There is hope even in the midst of gloom.
The prophet Ezekiel was a Temple priest when the Babylonians swept the power elite of Jerusalem into exile, about 597 B.C. God called Ezekiel to prophesy through word and deed.
Initially, Ezekiel proclaimed a message of extreme doom, which expressed an almost unreal hope in God’s power. There was a total loss of hope. It looks as if all hope has ended.
In the First reading of today, Ezekiel described a vision of a valley full of death. Then God says that He is now going to open their graves and raise His people from these graves and lead them back to the soil of Israel.
The graves signify situations which are totally at the point of no return. At that point of no return, the Spirit of the Lord will bring them back to life again.
The first reading of today connected this vision with the spiritual despair of the Jews in exile.
What happened is that God described the situation in Israel as those already in the grave, which is like a point of no return. Yet God says despite the situation, despite how impossible it might look, the graves must be opened again.
Therefore, even at the point of no return, there is still hope, if we can still hold on to the power of God. Only the Power of God can do this. What they could not do on their own, God could easily do.
You may be on your knees asking when will this scourge end. Is the world ending already for you? What can I do? Are there no remedies for this? Where is God when these are happening to me? And so many other questions.
While it might seem impossible, like reconstituting flesh or reanimating a body, God can still revive you. There is still Hope in the midst of the gloom.
God Can Raise You from the Graves
In the first reading, God says “I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people”.
As graves signify a time of no return, the point of graves represents those times the people of God thought that all hope is lost. During their exilic experiences, many of them think that this could be a point of no return.
Therefore, there are also times we look like people in graves. There are times, it seems that all hope is lost when we have already accepted and believed that we are at the point of no return. The message of today is that God can still raise us from these graves.
Graves here can also represent the graves of sin. It is the time we think that God may never forgive us again because of our pasts. It is a time we have accepted that God is punishing us because of the sins we have committed.
In today’s reading, God is telling us that there is another chance for us to come back to Him and make peace. He is always eager to raise us from the graves of sin. He is inviting us to the confessional to confess our sins and receive forgiveness.
In the second reading, he says that “Though our body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in us then our spirit is life itself because we have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in us, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies through his Spirit living in us.
Therefore, as the animating Spirit of God will give life to those already in the graves in the first reading, the same Spirit of God can give life and freedom to our mortal bodies already decayed in sin. There is hope for us to repent now and embrace the power of the Spirit of God.
God says “And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this”.
The gospel story of the raising of Lazarus is a story of hope in the midst of hopelessness. I will not analyse them bit by bit but let us look at some things that make the situation hopeless.
1. Jesus seemingly silence.
The two sisters met Jesus when Lazarus was sick but Jesus assured them that it would not lead to death, imagine how joyful they could be, yet Lazarus died. This only must have broken them to pieces.
Though Jesus knows Lazarus will live again. For the two sisters, it might be a dead end for them.
After reporting to Jesus about the sickness of Lazarus, we expect Jesus to respond immediately as He used to do. Jesus loves Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill, Jesus stayed more days before going to Bethany.
The sisters must have lost hope, that Jesus might not come again.
In our case, I know many people easily lose hope when afflictions arise. When bad things happen to us and we ask God for help, yet nothing seems to be happening, we always lose hope and leave it in the hands of fate rather than hanging our faith in God. When God seems to be silent, there is always the tendency to lose hope in God.
2. The Sisters’ reluctance to inform Jesus of the Death
Did you discover that the two sisters did not inform Jesus again when Lazarus died? They did not bother again to disturb Jesus when Lazarus died.
They simply went and buried Him. So, for them, it was a dead case.
Secondly, when Jesus was discussing with Martha, Jesus told her, your brother will rise again, but Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus was thinking about raising him immediately but Martha was thinking of the time of resurrection from the dead. This is a sign of no hope at the moment.
3. Lazarus in the Tomb
Lazarus has already been buried. There was no hope at the moment. The Jews believed that after the 3rd day, the body begins to decay, so Lazarus’ body may be undergoing decay.
Even when Jesus told Martha to remove the tomb, Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha responded, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day since he died.’ Another case of total hopelessness.
In the Midst of Hopelessness.
From the above readings, Hope came when all least expected that. When all hope was lost, God came to the rescue.
Jesus told Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. This means that though there is no hope again, we can be resurrected by His power. Though it seems the world is crumbling, God’s power can make things alive again, although it seems everything is now in shambles, and the future looks bleak, the power of God can always give life.
What Jesus requires from us is strong faith and total belief in His power to save humanity.
In verse 40 “Jesus told Martha ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So, instead of dying in worry, let us build our faith in the Lord, instead of living a total life of hopelessness and faithlessness, let us live with a strong faith in Him to save us.
The Journey from Hopelessness to To Life: What We Need to do?
There is hope in the midst of gloom. To rise from the state of hopelessness, to rise from the pit of gloom to life again, there are things we have to do. We have to take them from today’s gospel. If we truly want to rise from that state of hopelessness to more life, we can do these:
1. Removing the Stone
Before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, He commands them to take away the stone. Therefore, the removal of the stone was not done by Jesus but John did not tell us who took the stone away. John only says that they took away the stone. Therefore, this could be done by the people there.
Therefore, this means that for us to defeat some challenges, we can also need the help of someone or others. We cannot always do it alone. Yes, we pray and expect the power of God but we do not fold our hands. We have to take action. Also, we have to join hands together and remove the stone.
We solicit that all hands must be on deck at this moment. Wherever you are, extend helping hands to your brother or sister. Let us continually encourage ourselves.
Save the soul nearest to you, Just Like Jesus saved this family today.
2. Always Expect that Something good is Coming.
If we read through the gospel today, we shall observe that Jesus keeps making light of the situation at hand. Even while the apostles, the sisters of Lazarus and the people concluded that nothing good will come out of the situation again, Jesus kept expecting that something good will come. Jesus keeps their hope alive.
So, there is still hope in the midst of gloom if we can keep our hope and expectations alive. You cannot go in the presence of God to pray, yet you expect unanswered prayers.
So, when it seems we are already on the point of no return, on the point of hopelessness, let us not wallow in depression. Always keep the hope alive, that something good can still come out of the situation.
3. Whatever You believe Happens to You.
In Matthew 21:22, Jesus says “Everything that you will ask in prayer and believe, you will receive.” or “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
In John 14:1-3, He says “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”
In Matthew 8:13, Jesus tells the Centurion “Go, let what you believe happens to you”. When Jesus came to Bethany, He took His time to uplift the faith of Martha and Mary. Jesus says to Martha “If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
Then Martha says ‘Yes, Lord,’ I believe that you are Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world”.
Later Martha also said to Him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus still replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So, faith is very important to our spirituality.
Faith is very crucial to our worship, prayers, testimonies and miracles.
Faith is the secret of miracles. Even in the midst of hopelessness, Jesus assures the family that everything will be fine. We need faith and not faithlessness when we face challenges.
Once we begin to complain or get angry with God in times of challenges, we have lost it.
4. Love and be close to God even in the Time of Gloom
There is something I would like us to acknowledge in this gospel. Remember that The sisters, Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus telling him that Lazarus was ill.
Then, on receiving the message, Jesus promised them that the sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory. Yet, Lazarus died and the worst of it was that Jesus did not come on time.
So, we expect them to express their anger or disappointment to Jesus as many of us would always do when we think God has disappointed them. Instead of doing this, they still showed their love to Jesus and continued to tell him that if he had been there, Lazarus would not have died.
Therefore, the time of gloom is not a time to lose hope in God but a time to increase it. It is the time to show your love to God and not a time to express your anger and disappointment to God. Like Jesus says today, God knows what He is doing.
He does everything for His glory, and through it, the Son of God will be glorified. He knows what He does for this to happen. During this time, keep your faith intact.
5. Always Come to His Presence.
When Jesus came to Bethany, Mary went to Jesus immediately and threw herself at his feet. Then, at the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ Then Jesus wept. Jesus was moved by the tears of these people who came to His feet crying. This could be a form of prayer to Him.
In times of hopelessness, always go to His presence. If you want to cry, shed your tears there. Pour your tears in the presence of God, it is more efficacious. There is hope in the midst of gloom if we have Jesus. Let us always come to His presence in times of affliction.
6. Pray hard.
With Prayer and thanksgiving, there is hope in the midst of gloom. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 God says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. Before Jesus raised Lazarus, Jesus prayed and thanked God in advance.
“Jesus lifted his eyes and said: ‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. I knew indeed that you always hear me, but I speak for the sake of all those who stand around me, so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’Prayer and thanking God in advance are highly efficacious during moments of affliction.
1. When life is ruthlessly constricted, when hope is stifled, there appears no time to come worth coming in God’s presence. There appears no hope again.
What is in front of us looks like a sunset and endless night. When we find ourselves in moments of grief like that of Bethany, or down among the graves in death valley, we are always tempted to believe that all hope is lost.
Sometimes, we believe that God can never intervene again. Hence, the one who acted powerfully in the stories of Ezekiel and Lazarus, our loving Jesus is neither unwilling nor unable to act in our stories as well. There is hope in the midst of gloom.
2. We have to know that no bones are too dry. No grief is too deep. No stone at a tomb entrance is too heavy for God.
God can resurrect our dead aspirations, dreams and businesses. He can revive a heartbroken soul and family.
God can save the broken world. Sometimes what we must do is stand back, seek Him, believe in His power and wait for God to work. We need to increase More faith and less fear for all. Faith is the key to help us go through the glooming moments. There is hope in the midst of gloom.
3. There is always light at the end of the tunnel even when the light seems not to be coming. There is always an end to any predicament, for no condition is permanent. We need to keep our faith alive. We need to ask God to give us His Spirit Always. When the Spirit of God is at work, there is always a revival and restoration.
4. If you are observant, you would discover that Jesus did not tell Martha and Mary the time He will come. He comes at His convenience. Jesus even wasted time, before he came. In the same way, let us understand that God works in His own time. God intervenes at His convenience. We may have the time we need him to act, but whichever time to act is still His own decision. We do not decide for Him.
5. Immediately, Jesus speaks, the dead that was already four days in the tomb became alive again. Immediately He speaks to the tomb, and every foul odour that would have emanated from the tomb disappears. When God is in control, dry bones can rise again. Even when people think you do not have hope, even when they think you cannot make it, there is always hope in the midst of gloom, when God is in control.
6. Finally, as Jesus intervenes in the life of this family, let us always intervene in the life of others. We should not always act selfishly concentrating only on ourselves. As you pray for yourself, pray for others as well. As you try to help yourself, help others as well. Also, as you work to make yourself happy and provide for yourself, do the same for others. Whatever we do for others will still come back to be a blessing to you.
May God bless you always and never forsake You. Amen