April 6, 2014
Today Ezekiel speaks joyfully of a raising up to new life that will take place for the people of Israel in the days to come. Ezekiel was prophesying a figurative sort of resurrection—the return of Israel from their exile in Babylon—but seen through the lens of Christian faith it anticipates the resurrection which would be fully revealed in Christ.
Moving from Old Testament prefiguration to New Testament fulfillment, the Church comes one step closer to realizing the import of the resurrection in the gospel of John, with Lazarus being raised up bodily from the dead. During this Lenten season we have heard about how Jesus revealed himself gradually through his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, and through his healing of the man born blind, and now we witness an even more dramatic event, the raising of Lazarus.
Here we see Jesus’ deep personal anguish over the reality of death: he weeps for his friend Lazarus. Those standing around show no compassion or faith, but rather say in response: “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” Jesus confronts the human finality of death and the pain that it brings with it, and he reveals his divine power in answer to it, anticipating the complete victory over sin and death which he will win for us through his own death on the cross and resurrection.
In showing compassion for Lazarus and raising him up again, Jesus reveals how intimately God is moved by our suffering, and thus Jesus in his grief gives meaning to our suffering, not by making it all go away, but by experiencing it—in the present moment through the loss of his friend Lazarus, and soon through the experience of his own passion and death—taking all of our suffering upon himself.
The raising of Lazarus is a forecast of the resurrection that we share in through our faith in Jesus, yet it remains a resurrection to mortal life: Lazarus would die again, whereas the resurrection we await will go even further than his miraculous revival.
Our Understanding of the Resurrection
St. Paul helps us to grasp the full meaning of the resurrection: in his letter to the Romans he tells us that what happened in Christ was a resurrection to new and eternal life—unlike the mortal life to which Lazarus was raised—a life that extends not only to our biological, bodily reality, but to the spiritual realm too. Paul writes: “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, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” While the sin which burdens this body is felt by all, the power of the Spirit which is ours in faith infinitely exceeds it, and abides within us now in the body, and will eventually lead us to eternal life.
That for which Ezekiel longed has now become a reality in Jesus, a reality not only seen and read about in the pages of the Bible, but a reality in which we participate: “…if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” As we begin to approach the height of the Lenten season our thoughts and prayers should turn to the one who raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, asking him to renew in us the life-giving presence of the Spirit which turns us from sin to compassion, and which deepens within us the faith that was born of Lazarus’ new life—and leads us to eternal life!
Fr. Edward Mazich, O.S.B.