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Sunday 26 March 2023 Lent 5

07 February 2023

A people of promise, living in hope

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

By Mark Woods

Parish Deacon in Worthing and Chair of the National Diaconal Conference


Context: Saturday evening Vigil Mass with 70 mainly retired people and just a few families and young people

Aim: to remind the congregation that we are all called to be evangelists, living out the promise of the Gospel and speaking hope to the world


The well-known hymn ‘Abide with me’ has the line ‘change and decay in all around I see.’ This is indeed a reflection on the reality of the material world, what physicists call entropy — usually associated with a state of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty. We might also, at this time, see this as a reflection on our government, current society and perhaps even the state of the Church in this country.

Nearly 40 years ago, at the height of summer, I attended the funeral of a priest in Rome, Fr Chris Pemberton. Unfortunately, the head funeral director was on holiday which meant that his coffin hadn’t been properly sealed, and so by the time of the funeral there was an all pervading odour of decay — incense came into its own that day. I have always, thereafter, understood the real concern of Martha in today’s gospel when she says ‘Lord, by now he will smell; it is the fourth day.’

She sees in the death of her brother Lazarus, despite her profession of faith in Jesus, a finality, a fall into disorder and uncertainty. She has failed to understand fully what he means when he says ‘I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’ For Jesus is not just the one who will in the future preside at the final resurrection, but he is the one through whom even now in death God brings forth life.

Thus, Jesus fulfils the prophecy of Ezekiel that speaks of the people of Israel whom God is to raise from the grave of exile and return to a new life on their own soil. When all appears lost, in chaos and disorder, God will bring life, even out of the grave. In Jesus, though it takes on a fuller dimension so that all peoples are raised from the grave of sin and death, and restored to new life. For as Saint Paul tells us ‘the God who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through the Spirit living in you’. Disorder, uncertainty, ‘change and decay’ are overcome in Jesus Christ.


Christians, therefore, are called to live as people of promise, living in the light of hope; called to live here and now the reality of this hope. The Jesus we receive today in the Eucharist gives us himself as food for the here and now, to sustain us in our hope which we are called to share with the world. So, although we might be tempted to despair, to lose hope when ‘change and decay in all around we see’ whether in society at large or within the Church, if we are a people of promise then we must resist that temptation.

Yes, we can look around and lament the state of our parish, note those who have fallen away from practice of the faith, and ask why there aren’t more families and young people here tonight. Yet Jesus is not calling us to accept how things are. We are to live as people of promise, followers of the one who says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ This means each one of us is called as part of our baptismal vocation to go and share the good news of the kingdom of God, to make disciples of all nations.

I believe, the first thing we need to do, if we are to accomplish this is for each of us to deepen our life of prayer and faith, our relationship with Jesus. This is not just the work of the parish priest, the deacon or key parishioners, but of all of us. Like Martha and Mary, we have to truly understand what it means when Jesus says ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ It is not just about something future, either at our own death or at the end of time, but it must have a resonance for us in the here and now.

Raymond Brown, a great Scripture scholar, tells us that ‘Lazarus’s miraculous return to life fulfils Martha’s aspirations but it is still only a sign, for Lazarus will die again — that is why he emerges from the tomb still bound with the burial clothes. Jesus comes to give an eternal life impervious to death, as he will symbolise by his emerging from the tomb leaving his burial clothes behind.’

So, if we are a people of such a promise then we are called to transform the darkness, disorder and chaos of the world’s pain into the life and joy of Easter.

For though ‘change and decay in all around we see . . . In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.’

For other Holy Week lections see the archive on the College of Preachers website.

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