We are in the throws of our lenten journey now and the end is starting to come up on the horizon. We are, in a way, living our own exile in the wilderness perhaps away from the good things that we enjoy. God speaks to His people in our First Reading through the prophet Ezekiel and speaks in a polyvalent way (multiple meanings) about what He is going to do with them: “I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel.” Notice the double meanings: “Raise you from your graves” — deliver your from those who hold you captive in exile; raise you from the death of sin; raise you on the last day when Jesus returns in glory. “Lead you back to the soil of Israel” — deliver you from captivity and bring you back to your land; bring you to the Church, which is heaven on earth because she is the New Israel, the Kingdom of heaven; and bring you to your heavenly dwelling at the end of your life.
Our First Reading continues, “And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people.” Many in Israel were expecting the messiah to raise people from the dead because of what the Lord says here in this passage from Ezekiel. But it’s also a hint at the fact that the messiah was going to be divine because it says “you will know that I am the Lord.” Enter Jesus and Lazarus.
In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus is called to save Lazarus from death in his illness. Jesus alludes to that fact that He is going to intentionally wait for Lazarus to “fall asleep” so that He can begin to fulfil this very passage from Ezekiel: “This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.”
St John notes all the same things that he will later note in the Resurrection of Jesus: The tombstone rolled away, the burial clothes, and the head coverings. This is one of the signs that point to Jesus’ own Resurrection.
Just as the blind man last week represented all humanity that was blind to the light of salvation before Christ, so Lazarus represents all humanity this week as we are all dead in sin and exiled from our home, the heavenly Israel. St John even makes reference to the blind man in this passage. But, also as last week, Jesus this week shows us that He is going to change that. Last week He gave us light, this week He brings us life. More specifically, back to life! How is He going to do that? Our First Reading confirms what we’ve been talking about for a few weeks now: “I shall put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil.”
Jesus loves each of us as much as He loved Lazarus and He calls us too out of darkness and death into light and life. This is one meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 43:1): “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Heart melting words!
St Paul in his epistle in our Second Reading speaks directly to this redemption: “… if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.” This is also the meaning of Jesus’ confusing words in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail.”
This is why Jesus came: To destroy death. Jesus, life Himself, placed Himself inside the mouth of death and death, the total absence of life, could not contain life Himself. Death… died. Death is no more. “O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Death is no longer actual death, but rather a change of location of sorts. This is why the liturgy calls it “sleep,” “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection” (The Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer II). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Ea