Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:14-45
It is nearly Palm Sunday and Holy Week, but not quite yet! We are entering the fifth Sunday and week of Lent and the Gospel passage assigned for this Sunday brings us face to face with death, the death of a close friend of Jesus. Whenever Christians ponder death they are also supposed to be thinking of resurrected life. That can be very difficult to do, of course, when one or many whom we love die, and our grief cannot be swept away with a few words. Yet even in grief the Christian is called to believe the triumph of Christ over death is a gift extended to the whole human race, to all who die and to all who mourn, called to participate in God’s life that can never die.
The seed must die in order to give life to a plant. This image reminds us that our earthly existence will come to an end, but from that apparent annihilation, resurrected life can come forth, as promised by the Lord and shown by his own resurrection from the dead. It is especially prefigured in the raising of Lazarus from the tomb, which Latin or Roman Catholics recall each year the Sunday before Palm Sunday. Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians recount the raising of Lazarus the day before Palm Sunday.
In either case, the story of Lazarus’ return to life is placed in the Christian liturgy quite close to Holy Week when we especially ponder each year the mystery of Christ’s saving death and resurrection. Just as Lazarus, who was dead and in a tomb for some days was raised to new life by Christ, so too each of us can experience resurrected life in Jesus Christ. Resurrection from the dead is the basis our hope and the cause of our rejoicing even in the face of death.
In other words, we Christians believe that death is not the end of our existence. Our life changes at death but does not end. In fact, our death is the entrance into a new and eternal life which lasts for ever. The sacred scriptures of our Church are an exclamation of life, of resurrection, of dwelling in God and ultimately in the Holy Trinity of Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The three Scripture readings for this Sunday proclaim clearly the call of life. From Ezekiel the Prophet we hear, “Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” And further, “I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” Could there be more encouraging words?
In the second lesson for this Sunday Saint Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also through his Spirit dwelling in you.” What great news for the follower of Jesus Christ, called to be part of God’s kingdom here on earth and in the world to come.
Finally, in the Gospel this Sunday we find the gloriously encouraging words of the Redeemer: “I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die.”
Jesus’ life and mission led to death for the salvation of the world. Christ died because he loved to the extreme, always seeking to do God’s will for the good of the human race. We may lack a firm belief in this at times, since the mystery of God becoming a human being and redeeming us transcends that which we can easily perceive with our senses. Christ walked upon this earth, yet it takes faith to see in him the promised Redeemer and the ultimate desire of all peoples.
The presence of God actively involved in our life is our life is a reality that cannot be weighed and measured, yet is that which gives meaning to our life. Jesus came to give life, but most especially life eternal. He came to bring joy and happiness, but that which lasts forever, not just for a moment. Christian faith is a tremendous support in one’s journey through life. We give thanks to God for the gift of faith, which may at times seem like a tiny mustard seed, but in fact is a tremendous potential for doing great things and sharing in life eternal with God.
May the Lord increase our faith and encourage us to persevere in doing good, living in faith, hope and love.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB