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Homily for the fifth Sunday of Lent

31 Mar 2017, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Sermons

The Lord says this: 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. The tomb is the ‘home’ of the dead; the living does not live there. The Lord says he will open our graves, which means we are dead, spiritually dead. Some may be alive, but their relationship with humans and God is dead; their prayer life is dead. It may be their happiness; they no longer know what is called happiness in their lives, their lives are full of bitterness. Many may be alive but psychologically dead, or it may be our businesses that are dead, our hopes and confidence dead and buried. But the good news this morning is that the Lord says he is now going to open our graves and raise us; he is going to raise our hopes, our confidence, our relationships, our businesses, and every good thing that the devil may have killed and buried in our lives. God would not lie; he says he is going to raise us and resettle us. This is a call to trust, to hold on to the word of God, and stand on his promises. Whatever good thing that is dead in our lives will live in the name of Jesus Christ.

Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life and that anyone who believes in him, even though he dies, will live. No matter what the devil has taken from us or killed in our lives, we will live just as Lazarus was restored to life in Christ Jesus. Death took Lazarus away from Martha and Mary, he died and was buried, but Jesus raised him, his grave was opened, and he was raised to life. Today that is what the Lord promises to do: to lift us above the power of death, the power of limitation, the power of fear, the power of powerlessness, and the power of everything that is against the will of God in our lives.

Sickness and death are the enemies of life, yet there will be no healing if there was no sickness, graves will not be opened if there were no burials, and there will be no resurrection if there is no death. Before Lazarus died, he was sick, and before he was raised, he was buried. His sickness was a challenge to himself and his two sisters; they were worried, they prayed and sent a message across to Jesus that their brother was sick. But Jesus decided not to respond immediately as they wished; he waited till Lazarus died and was buried. His death worsened the family’s situation; they were devastated and inconsolable even though the villagers gather to console them. They must have wondered why Jesus disappointed them at the time they needed him most; they must have wondered why he was silent. But I ask this morning, was Jesus really silent? What seems to be Divine silence is not silence; Jesus knew everything that was happening. He told his apostles that Lazarus was sick, and when Lazarus died, he also told them about it. Therefore, that is to say, that he heard every call from Martha and Mary; he heard every of their prayer.

Four days after Lazarus was buried, Jesus decided to visit the family. For Martha and Mary, the visit was late, they said; if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you. Even some of the Jews said He opened the eyes of the blind man; could he not have prevented this man’s death? But just as Ezekiel prophesied in our first reading, Jesus called Lazarus out of the land of the dead. In other words, he opened the grave as he promised and led Lazarus back to the soil of Israel. That is what he promises to do in our lives; every good thing killed, buried, or covered in our lives will be opened and raised by his power.

Martha and Mary had sent word to Jesus to come and heal their brother, they had prayed for healing for him, but Jesus delayed. He delayed not because he did not get the message, not because he did not hear their prayers, but because he had more generous plans. They wanted him to come and heal their brother, but he planned to come and heal the entire village. If Jesus had answered their prayers immediately and healed Lazarus as they wanted, probably nobody would have heard about it; it wouldn’t have brought faith to the people. But because Jesus in his wisdom delayed, he brought glory to himself and the Father. In their very presence, he called Lazarus out of the grave, the whole village talked about what happened, and they believed in God.

In our daily lives, we are tempted to give up simply because our prayers are not answered immediately; we feel God has abandoned us. We are tempted to begin to run from pillar to post, to begin to consult the devil. We must learn not to give up on God, Martha did not give up even after Lazarus was buried. She said I know that even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you. Martha held onto her faith; she did not get mad at Jesus. That is the spirit, which is the kind of faith we should have; never to give up on God.

What is that thing that is dead in our lives? Is our relationship with God weak? Our prayer life? Joy in our families? Are doors to success closed against us? All these can still hear the voice of God commanding them to come alive. Lazarus heard the voice even in the world of the dead, so let us not give up. Delay is not denial; God has more fantastic plans even if he seems to delay at the moment. He will open your ‘grave’ and bless you beyond expectations.