(See the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 2)
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says in the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy (John 11:25). He says this in a conversation with Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary. Jesus was a friend of the three siblings. Now Lazarus has died. The sisters had sent for Jesus so that he might heal Lazarus and prevent him from dying. When Jesus received the message he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified through it” (John 11:4). He thus delays his departure for two days.
When he arrives, Jesus finds that Lazarus is dead, at this point for four days. On hearing that Jesus was nearing Bethany, Martha runs out to meet him and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise” (John 11:23). Martha affirms her belief that he will, but she refers to the resurrection on the “last day.” Jesus then says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will life, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
Jesus then asks, “Do you believe this?” Martha replies, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (John 11:26, 27). The promise of life of which Jesus speaks is tied to himself. He is the one who is life and the only one who can shatter the gates of death to restore life. The participation in this promised resurrection comes through an act of faith: faith in Jesus and in the One who sent him.
As the catechumens continue their journey to baptism at the Easter Vigil (two weeks from now), they prepare to make their act of faith. At Easter, those already baptized will reaffirm their faith through the renewal of their baptismal promises. During the liturgies of Lent, we have been praying that this time of preparation may be fruitful and life-giving. We pray that we might worthily celebrate the “sacred feasts” or the “mysteries.” The mystery we celebrate is Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. We celebrate that he is the resurrection and the life. His death and resurrection bring reconciliation and forgiveness. Through these mysteries, he not only restores humanity to life, he raises us to newness of life, divine life and eternal life.
The promise of resurrection reverberates through today’s liturgy. The first reading recalls an oracle of the Ezekiel, who, speaking for the Lord, says, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them …Then you shall know that I am the Lord … I shall put my spirit in you that you may live” (Ezekiel 37:12,13,14). The prophecy ties together resurrection and the pouring out of the spirit. The two are joined in the celebration of baptism, where we are immersed in the death of the Lord and his spirit is poured into us through the life-giving waters of rebirth. The celebration calls to mind the “living waters” of which Jesus spoke to the woman at the well in the Gospel passage two weeks ago.
The second reading for today’s liturgy comes from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The association between spirit and life is clear: “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, though his Spirit dwelling in you” (Romans 8:10-11).
Although Jesus knew he would restore Lazarus to life, he was not immune from the sorrow associated with the death of a loved one and with the grief of others. The evangelist tells us quite succinctly that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus then goes to the tomb and has the stone covering removed. He prays to the Father asking that people believe in him through this action, and then says: “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43)
Lazarus does come out. Jesus has restored him to life. This is a “restoration,” not a “resurrection.” The evangelist indicated this by noting the Lazarus is bound by the burial cloths. This will not be the case in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. So Jesus says to the people gathered, “Untie him and let him go” (John 11:44).
Lazarus is free. He is restored to life. This sign foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection so that all might believe and profess that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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