Fr. Wilfred Sumani, SJ
Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11: 1-45
Jesus our Resurrection
As Easter draws near, the liturgy of the Word for the fifth Sunday of Lent prepares our minds and hearts for the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ – the core of our faith. Without the resurrection of Christ,Christianfaith would be worthless and vain (1Corinthians 15:14).
The central metaphor in the readings is that of opening the grave. In many cultures, before a person is committed to the grave, precautions are taken to ensure that the person is truly dead. There are cases where, due to lack of diligence, people in comma are taken to the mortuary. But once a person is put in the grave, there is no possibility of return. The grave is the definitive sign of death. It is not surprising, therefore, that the moment of interment is one of the most difficult moments for mourners. Some can even lose their psychological balance and do harm to themselves. The grave is a symbol of definitive loss.
Martha and Mary, as the gospel recounts, experience the pain of loss, the loss of their brother Lazarus. When Lazarus was ill, they sent word to Jesus their friend so he could come and attend to him. But Jesus delays. He only arrives after Lazarus has died and has been in the grave for four days. Given the hot climate of Palestine, Lazarus’ body would have begun to disintegrate by the fourth day. Jesus delays so that “the Son of God may be glorified through it.” St. John Chrysostom reminds us that sometimes God delays in answering our prayers so that the situation becomes so desperate that when God eventually intervenes, it may be clear to all that it was the work of God, not of human beings or nature (Homilies on Genesis XL, 6). When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ grave, he asks the people to “take away the stone” and then cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus walks out of the grave, to the amazement of the onlookers. Jesus is the resurrection. He is the opener of graves. He calls the dead out of the grave. No situation is too desperate for Jesus. It is never too late to call upon Jesus’ intervention.
Death comes in many shapes and sizes. Death is not only a physical phenomenon. Loss of home can be an experience of death. On account of their disobedience to God, the people of Israel lose their home and are exiled in Babylon. They have lost the freedom of citizens. However, the God of mercy consoles them with the message of the imminent return to the Promised Land: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 37). The end of the exile is the resurrection of the nation of Israel. God comes and calls a dead nation out of the grave. God breathes a new life into them. It is a brand new start.
The opening of the graves of Israel and Lazarus is but a prophecy of the opening of Jesus’ own grave on the third day after his death. The women will go to Jesus’ burial site but they will find the stone rolled way. That day will be the “new day”, the day made by the Lord. The resurrection of Jesus, in turn, is a promise of our own resurrection. As Paul encourages the Romans (second reading), “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.”
Today, let us take time to name the ‘grave’ in which an aspect of our lives has been buried. Maybe it has been lying in the grave for a long, long time. But it is not too late to call upon Jesus to come and open that grave so that we may receive a new lease of life. May the Lord continue to accompany us on our journey to the resurrection.