On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, our readings point us to God’s life-giving love and the hope of Easter. But Lent is not over yet. We are confronted by a grieving Martha who says to Jesus today and to us “there is a stench.” A stench that comes from the reality of suffering and death in our world.
We know that lives are being threatened by the forces of fear, racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, exploitation, and so many other death-dealing powers in this world which destroy lives and rupture our relationships. The pain and suffering is staggering, and it is not just theoretical, happening out there on the news – for too many people, suffering and death are felt deeply personally, tearing apart families and futures, just like it does for Martha, Mary and indeed for Lazarus in today’s Gospel.
The grieving sisters go to meet Jesus and cry out to him with their grief and pain, they share the reality of their suffering and disappointment with their beloved friend. I love how Martha courageously enters into a dialogue with Jesus. She is a person of deep faith, who trusts and believes in that promise of resurrection life that God proclaimed through the Prophet Ezekiel as we heard in our first reading. Martha has a horizon of hope that holds on to the possibility of restoration for her brother in the future, someday, but that ‘feels out of reach to her in her grief now. Jesus responds to Martha’s hope in a powerful and profound way – proclaiming “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus reveals in his words and his life-giving action the Good News of our faith: that God’s dream of new abundant life for us, is breaking into our world through Christ. Our horizon of hope in God’s love is BOTH for the future that we cannot quite imagine yet, and ALSO for the here and now.
There are times when the forces of destruction, death, and dehumanization are so strong, that we cannot see the path forward, and all we can do is cry out to God. Sometimes our only comfort when confronted by the crushing power of oppression, violence, and alienation is remembering that Jesus loves us and weeps with us outside the tombs.
I have had my own moments where I could not imagine past the tomb – when I had no choice but to say goodbye to life as I knew it. When every door to my future seemed closed. Confronted by relationships that could not be reconciled. Injustices that seemed insurmountable. Grief that broke my heart. Moments that felt like dying. Perhaps you have too. I also know, going through these moments, that God is bringing life in new and transforming ways to us, each and every day – in ways we may not quite expect, or have ever imagined. Through new opportunities. Communities of support. The transformation of my heart. Through creative, joyful, prophetic action. Through resilience and resistance movements that challenge the powers that be. God is bringing life to birth, restoring and renewing our world. Do we see it? God is calling us to partner in rolling away the stones and untying the bonds of injustice. Do we hear it?
This resurrection hope in the life-giving power of God is not just something for us to say we believe, but it must be encountered and experienced – and it only comes to us who are at the tomb. We must be willing to acknowledge our suffering, and the suffering of the world, and open ourselves up to God's Spirit at work. It is not enough for us to shake our heads at injustice, tweet out thoughts and prayers, and then change the channel and keep our peace, hoping that someday Jesus will work it all out. Our faith demands our transformation, and our courageous and prayerful action. As Christians we have to disrupt the whole system of unnatural death which is bearing down upon the most marginalized, poor, and vulnerable. We have to act prophetically against the forces of death in our families, workplaces, community. Life has to break in through our economic choices, our advocacy, our votes, our relationships, and yes, through our prayers. We have to embody the truth that St. Paul shares in our second reading: that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is with us, animating the Church. God is drawing near. We believe, yes, that eventually, in the fullness of God’s time all oppression will cease, and death will be no more. Until that time we must be instruments of God’s life, enfleshing hope and proclaiming today that death cannot have the last word.
The truth is that here and now, Jesus is on the way to the tombs of the ones he calls beloved, and he is asking us if we know the way and if we will go with him. Do we grieve with those who grieve, do we live in solidarity with those who are despised, disposable, and put to death in our world? Do we cry out to God for help? Do we know the stench of the tomb, like Martha and Mary did, because we are siblings of those who suffer?
For those of you who feel like you’re trapped in the tombs of life – imprisoned by the death-dealing forces of our world that deny your dignity, if you feel alone and afraid, hold on to hope because the voice of Love is calling you by name, saying “Come Out!” The voice of Love is howling for your freedom: “Let them go!”
May all of us, as we prepare for Holy Week, tangibly encounter the life-giving Love of God, may we become true Spirit-filled disciples like Martha and Mary. May we journey with Jesus to the tomb – willing to grieve, willing to tackle the stench, willing to be transformed together. Let us believe in God’s power, trusting we will find God at work in us as we roll away the stones.
JoAnn Melina Lopez
JoAnn Melina Lopez
JoAnn Melina Lopez, M.Div. has been immersed in Catholic formation, education, and action for fifteen years. After completing her undergraduate degree at Saint Joseph’s University, she served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Houston, working with asylum seekers and refugees. She received her Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and spent seven years as Campus Minister for Liturgy at Seattle University. JoAnn currently serves as Director of Faith Formation at St. Basil's Catholic Parish in Toronto, and is pursuing a diploma focused on social justice and community empowerment.
JoAnn grew up in India and Singapore, where she learned the importance of hospitality, inclusion, sharing meals, and how to live in a multifaith and multicultural world. JoAnn was pleasantly surprised to find a vocation where her talents of storytelling, finding the perfect gif for any situation, and curating playlists that speak to the heart are put to good use. Having participated in Catholic liturgy on four continents, she marvels at unity in diversity in the Church and is passionate about ritual, prayer, the global Church, and social justice.
As an Ignatian-inspired minister, she is committed to cultivating communities of hope and imagination where everyone feels welcomed, loved, and empowered. JoAnn is grateful for the courageous faith of prophetic voices in every generation, and strives to live now for a Church and world that more closely reflects God’s dreams for us.
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