CHRIST OUR RESURRECTION AND LIFE
My brothers and sisters, on this fifth Sunday of Lent, the mother church presents us with a physiological condition called death and what happens after death. Day in, Day out, families and friends undergo traumatic experiences at the death of loved ones. Death is often announced as a sad news even when the deceased had lived a long life. Death claims its victim indiscriminately; when It uproots the prop of a family or the only growing bud, people often wonder why such a tragedy?
In the Gospel of today, a family friend of Jesus experienced the loss of a loved one. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were friends of Jesus and Jesus visited their home when he was in their neighbourhood. The Gospel presented us with the frustration, disappointment and anguish that goes with losing loved ones, especially, when they are young. Both Martha and Mary lamented to Jesus that, “if you were here, our brother would not have died’, but the presence of Jesus had given Martha some hope to add, “but I know that, even now whatever you ask God, he will grant you.” When Jesus said to Martha that her brother “will rise again”, Martha’s thought was not about Jesus resuscitating her brother, rather, it was about the resurrection of her brother at the end of time, for she said, “I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus resuscitated Lazarus after sharing in the sorrow of his family members. He mourned their loss. However, the central message of today’s Gospel is not the resuscitation of Lazarus, but that life has a purpose and death is not the end of life but only a transition to eternal life. Jesus said that “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live”. Here Jesus is saying that life does not come to an end through physical death, but it opens the way to eternal glory. Similarly, Jesus is assuring us of our eternal salvation when he said that, anyone who lives and believes in him will not know death. Here, death refers to our estrangement from God forever.
The first preface for the dead affirms that, “… for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven”. The book of wisdom brings it to our consciousness that it is not the longevity of life that matters but how life was spent. It declared that, “the souls of the just are in the hands of God and no torment shall touch them. In eyes of the unwise they appear to be dead. Their going is held as a disaster; it seems that they lose everything by departing us, but they are in peace. Though seemly they have been punished, immortality was the soul of their hope…. For God has tried them and found them worthy to be with him….” (Wis 3:1-6).
Jesus died young, but he is still remembered after two thousand years. We should not delay the last rites of our loved ones until they have lost consciousness. Indeed, it is the responsibility of every believer to ask for the last rites when he/she is still conscious. The 13th Canon of the Council of Nicaea held in 325 AD, anticipated that it was the dying who would request for the food for the journey, (Viaticum). The Canon stated that, “concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum…. In general, and in the case of any dying person whatsoever asking to receive the Eucharist, let the Bishop, after examination made, give it him.” The above canon emphasized the dying asking for the Eucharist before death. It implies that the dying in question is still able to be an active participant in the administration of this Sacrament of Viaticum.
The last rites include opportunity for reconciliation, re-affirming one’s baptismal promises, anointing with the oil of the sick (if one has not yet been anointed), and receiving Holy Communion. The most essential of all these rites is receiving Holy Communion as Viaticum (food for the Journey). In most cases the dying is unable to receive the food for the journey because the priest is sent for very late. The history of reserving Holy Communion in the tabernacle after mass was to bring Communion to the sick and the dying.
Jesus Christ is our resurrection and our life; just as he will not abandon us at the hour of our passing from this world, so will he raise the world up from her present predicament of coronavirus.
Finally, I wish to address the current situation of our churches in Frankston. Due to the mandatory closure of all places of worship by the Government because of the coronavirus, from mid-day, Monday 23rd of March, my proposed timetable for opening the church daily for individual or small groups private prayers has been made in-effective. The church is now closed until further notice. The parish office is also closed. This is a trying time for everyone, but the Lord will see us through! Keep on praying at home, saying the rosary, doing stations of the cross, and reading and meditating on the bible. The Sunday mass shall be uploaded on You Tube and Facebook. Google St Francis Xavier Church, Frankston on You Tube to participate in the Sunday mass. You may approach Fr Jude or myself for individual confession. Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday. Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday shall be celebrated privately on your behalf by the priests and deacon.
Keep on praying and reaching out to each other through phone call.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp