5th Sunday of Lent
Thus says the LORD GOD: O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them….. Ez. 37:12
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us put the same question to ourselves that Jesus put to Mary “Do you believe this?” Believe what? Not simply that Jesus can raise a man from the dead — that is certainly not the most startling thing we must come to believe — but that Jesus Himself is the Resurrection and the life and that Jesus can and will raise all mankind to life again at the end of time. He will do this simply by a command, the way God created in the first place, and simply by the power that is His as the life, the only kind of life that is truly eternal, because it is the divine life itself in human form, the form of the God made man.
The Gospel’s account of the raising of Lazarus is a true sign of this most startling and important truth for mortal man. Every one of us is going to die. We will all die because we do not yet fully possess His Eternal Life in this world and because we are still sons and daughters of our first parents. They could have transmitted that Life to us, in all its power, had they not sinned and transmitted death to us instead. Paul says that even when Christ is within us, because His Spirit dwells within us, “the body is dead because of sin” even while the soul possesses Eternal life through the Spirit. The body is dead in what sense? In the sense that it is mortal and subject to corruption, not only physical corruption but also moral corruption, since it is still subject to the sway of sin, even when the soul is clinging to God’s will is truly righteous. The Christian, even when restored to God’s Grace, to the very gift of Eternal Life, in its seed form as it were, is still subject to death, is still not fully in possession of Eternal Life since the body is not yet fully subject to the Spirit, and will not be so subjected until it is raised incorruptible.
The Gospel today addresses this mystery of man, subject to death but called to life eternal, and made capable of this gift through the Lord who is this Life itself in the flesh of man, the Incarnate Life of God, Jesus Christ. The one who believes in Him, therefore, as John says earlier in chapter 5 of his Gospel, by that very belief has already passed from death to life, at least in his soul, in the Spirit, even while his body remains subject to death because it is not yet fully subjected to the Spirit. This is our faith. Christ is Life, Eternal Life. Thus the resurrection of Lazarus not only fulfills the prophecy of Ezekiel – I will open your graves and have you rise from them – but also confirms the very words of Jesus in Chapter 5 of John’s Gospel where he declares the truth about Himself. Let us then recall that early prophetic teaching of Jesus:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.
Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to his Son the possession of life in himself. …
Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.
There you have the words of Jesus about his possession of the Divine Life –or just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to his Son the possession of life in himself. Indeed, Jesus goes beyond this claim to simply possess Divine Life when he says to Margaret that “I am the resurrection and the life.” He had said the like to His Apostles, “I and the way, the Truth and the Life,” now he repeats this to Martha and her friends. What does it mean? It means that Jesus, because He is the resurrection and the Life, will raise all men, body and soul, to life one day. Those who believe in Him will be raised to Glory, Eternal Life, because they believe in Him, but those who do not believe in Him and hence die in their sins will be raised to “eternal condemnation.” But all will be raised.
Now the question follows that he spoke to Margaret that day in Bethany. Do you, do you and I, truly believe all this, do we truly believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the Life? Do we truly believe in Jesus? Everything that ultimately matters for us men and our salvation depends upon our answer to that question. And we do not answer that question of faith merely by our words, but with our lives. The faith that Jesus demands here is not simply a matter of a simple verbal assent, by words, but also a surrender of our whole person, body and soul, to His Spirit. Those who answer with Margaret by their words and their lives, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,” will surely rise with the fullness of Eternal Life to Eternal Glory. While those who refuse to believe and lead unrepented wicked lives will rise to life, but they will be the living dead because neither in body nor soul will they possess Eternal Life, God’s Eternal life, which alone is able to save man from condemnation and eternal loss. They will not see God, but they will certainly hear his condemnation: depart from me, depart from me into eternal darkness and a life without meaning but without end.
None of this terrible loss is necessary, none of this tragedy is foreordained, or simple fate. Man ultimately chooses his own destiny because man is free to do so. He can always respond to the grace of God and believe, and we know that God has become man and died to make that response possible and effective. God, Our Savior, raised men from the tomb while on earth, and He continues to raise to Life men who are spiritually dead in a marvelous way in the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance and even at the last in Extreme Unction as we used to rightly call it. God desires our salvation more than we do and paid the ultimate price to make it possible. He will not reject us if we do not reject his mercy. That is the deepest truth of the Cross.