Lectionary 34, Gospel: John 8: 1-1
Each of the readings at mass on this fifth Sunday of Lent speaks in one way or another of the mysterious boundary between life and death and the confidence of the biblical writers that the Lord can transcend that frightening precipice. First up, Ezekiel makes it plain by prophesying: “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!” (Eze 37:13). The Psalmist for his part seeks rescue from his dire straits, praying: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! Lord, hear my voice!” (Ps 130:1). St. Paul picks up the theme of death and life as well, writing to the Romans: “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Rom 8:10).
Taking a deeper look at the meaning of these passages, we see that Ezekiel rejoices in the fact that the Lord has the power to bring the dead back to life; the Psalmist understands that this is meant both literally and figuratively (the promise “I will bring you back to your land” refers to the present life) and is confident that God can work this miracle even within the time of one’s earthly life. St. Paul goes further and teaches the Roman Christians that it is through Christ that God’s gift of new life has its origins and end, both in the present time and in the life to come.
For cultures and peoples who did not believe in life after death, or who had only a hazy notion of it, rising from the dead would be the greatest of miracles. The amazing thing about the message of the scriptures today is that the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ make an even more fantastic miracle possible: the apparent hopelessness of life without God gives way to an existential hope and joy even in the most difficult straits of the present life—and Christ’s victory over the grave gives us the assurance of an everlasting life with him after our earthly death.
This recollection of God’s power over life and death comes to its culmination in the dramatic account of the raising of Lazarus in the gospel of John. Here we come to a perfect illustration of Jesus’ power over death and we see the transformative effects that such power ought to have in our present lives. As surely as Lazarus experienced the miracle of new bodily life, so also those who witnessed this event or read about it in the gospel and allowed themselves to be converted by it experienced God’s power to “make all things new” (Rev 21:5).
Lazarus, however, would die again and although his restoration to bodily life was a divine act that moved many to faith, it would be infinitely surpassed by the resurrection of Jesus himself from the dead. Christ’s resurrection was not an extension of his earthly life which would simply destine him for a second encounter with death, but rather it raised him up to an eternal life in union with the Father, free from the pain and suffering that marked his earthly life and ministry.
What Ezekiel speaks of by way of prophecy, and St. Paul and John the evangelist join in proclaiming is that the eternal life Christ won through his resurrection is the same new life we will have through our union with him begun in the waters of baptism and deepened through our continual conversion to him in the sacramental life of the Church and in our practice of reconciliation and renewal. This Lenten season is quickly drawing to its end; let us make the best use of its remaining days to return to him who said “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.