I’m delayed in a Minneapolis airport heading home. I’m hoping to make the 8PM mass where I’m scheduled to give a reflection and it occurs to me that Jesus also was running late in our gospel today. In fact, he was so late that his friend, Lazarus, who was extremely ill had already died.
Being separated from those we love or from things we’d like to do is one of the big anxieties that we all face. When that separation is more permanent, such as in the death of a loved one, it becomes one of the great tragedies of human life. And God intimately understands that kind of anxiety because we hear that Jesus weeps over his friend’s death.
There’s an old saying that my friend Fr. J. Glen Murray often uses and he says that even when God shows up late somehow he’s right on time. And here Jesus comes in late and yet he’s also right on time…on time to change the faith of those who thought there was no hope left. Those who were separated from their dear brother.
Husbands and wives and parents and children often become distraught when one of their loved ones dies. But our gospel today reminds us that Jesus’ love for us is stronger than death and that even when it seems that we are separated from one another, we are actually closer together than we may think.
My colleague Tim Matovina at Notre Dame tells another story of separation. A young Hispanic woman was from a very simple family. She earned a scholarship to college at a time when in Hispanic culture, women didn’t become educated. But her father was a wise man and he insisted that she go on to University. She was excited but then as the time grew close for her to leave this close knit family, she realized that she would be separated from them. She told the wise old man of her fear and he said sweetly,
“Hija, there is no need to worry. When you get to that big university, go to the University Church or the Newman Center or wherever they have Catholic mass. Then know that I am also at mass. And because of that we will be closer than we are right now in that great mystical experience of being united to Christ’s body.”
And he added in Spanish “Nos menos en la communion.” (I will see you in communion).
Years later, the father died and the young woman at her father’s wake retold that story and when she was done she said, “Papi, Nos menos en la communion” and she kissed his body goodbye knowing deeply and with great faith that she still was connected to him . God always makes a way out of no way!
You see the message of the gospel is that God cannot bear to be separate from us. Even when we separate ourselves from God by choosing sin, God calls us out of our own dark tombs; out of the places that cause us to become dead. When we cut ourselves off from those that need us. When we are only concerned with our own self-satisfaction and die to self-sacrifice. And most importantly when we are hopeless and we think that God has run too late to satisfy our anxieties.
Even when all seems hopeless, God offers us something more, and it always comes just on time. Can we believe that? Or are we destined to be Lazurus–dead in a stinky tomb, bound from head to foot in our own prison?
Or can we have the faith that calls us to believe that God’s love can even overcome death. Perhaps that’s why we need Lent. To remind ourselves that our lives are always mystically connected to Jesus, to the disciples and to all those who have ever come around this table to share in the body of Christ.
As Lent comes to a close soon and as graduation nears, we soon will separate. And there’s a sadness that goes along with that. But let us all remember one certain truth. That no matter where life takes us and no matter when death takes us from each other…and even when jet delays keep us miles apart….
We will always see one another in communion… forever.