The prophet Ezekiel greets us this Sunday with the words: “Thus says the Lord God—O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them” (Eze 37:12). Ezekiel is among the earlier voices in the Bible to speak of resurrection. In Judaism, belief in a resurrection of sorts only came about over the course of many years, beginning roughly several centuries before the birth of Christ. In Jesus’ own day we see from the Gospels that many of his opponents, such as the Sadducees, did not believe in the concept of a resurrection; even today resurrection is understood and accepted with considerable variation by Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews.
Great prophets such as Isaiah and Ezekiel, and later, Daniel, gradually revealed what Christians understand as prophetic anticipations of the resurrection of the dead—a resurrection which was shared by Christ, as Saint Paul emphasized to his Corinthian followers (1 Cor 15:12-19). In the passage of his epistle to the Romans which we hear today, Paul builds on the idea of the resurrection by teaching that it is the Spirit of God which will be the instrument of our own bodily resurrection: “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” (Rom 8:11).
Paul’s words, speaking both of the death of Jesus and of his resurrection, remind us of the purpose of the Lenten season: through our prayer, penance, fasting, and sacrifices we re-focus ourselves on the mystery of Christ, a mystery that encompasses his death, marked on Good Friday, and his glorious resurrection, celebrated on Easter Sunday, the greatest day of the Christian year. Disciplining ourselves through the proper observance of Lent helps prepare us to receive a renewed portion of the Spirit—which puts into effect our own sharing in the Easter resurrection of Christ, just as we share in his passion in different ways through the course of our lives.
Another connection with Easter becomes clear when we recall that earlier in Romans Paul told his hearers that they have already received the Spirit in the waters of baptism (Romans 6). Further, Paul acknowledges that due to human weakness and selfishness we often choose to turn away from a Spirit-led life and embrace sin and death (Romans 6-7). In the days of Lent we train ourselves to renew our own baptismal pledges and remember that it is in the waters of baptism that we are united with Christ in death, so that we have the hope of being united with him in his resurrection.
All of this comes together in the Gospel in the account of the raising of Lazarus. This passage of John’s Gospel is rich in spiritual lessons, but to keep our focus on the resurrection we can turn to the words Jesus spoke to Martha, whose brother Lazarus had died: “Jesus told her, ‘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. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26).
Led by the Spirit we received in the waters of baptism, may we grow closer to Jesus in his death and in his resurrection in the remaining days of the Lenten season, so we can join with Martha in responding to our Lord’s question saying: “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 11:27).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Artwork: The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio, 1310–11.