Fifth Sunday of Lent
19 Mar 2020
Rev. Gilbert Ostdiek, OFM

First Reading: Ezechiel 37:12-14
Responsorial Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Second Reading: Romans 8:8-11
Gospel: John 11:1-45

Our Lenten journey is nearing completion. Triduum and Easter Feast are in sight. Today’s readings invite us to rest for a moment and reflect on the path we have been following. Lent began with two Jesus stories, set in a desert and on a mountain top. Next Sunday we will join the crowd welcoming him into Jerusalem with waving palms, and then on his way of the cross to death on a hill outside the city. In the three Sundays in between we have accompanied the elect on their way to the waters of rebirth on Holy Saturday, listening with them to three gospel stories catechumens have been told from of old about the meaning of baptism.

Those stories are ours, too. We join the elect in reflecting on own baptismal journey into the life and death of Christ (RCIA 4, 138). The meaning of that journey is wrapped in three gospels stories. A journey of thirsty hearts in search of the living water Jesus promised a Samaritan woman (John 6). Of blind eyes yearning to receive the gift of sight from one who is the light for our path (John 8). And today, the story of lives waiting to be freed from a grave by the one who is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11).

What are the graves from which we hope to be raised today? They go by many names. Fear of bodily death from the Coronavirus. The demise of hope and charity in a contentious political climate. Loss of life and loved ones to a stray bullet on a neighborhood street or mortar shells devastating a battlefield. The frustrating incompleteness and limitations of our human nature, which Paul calls “life in the flesh.” Or spiritual graves are hidden within us awaiting a summons to arise. Those and others as well.

What words of hope and guidance do today’s scriptures offer us? The message they each re-echo is one of hope. In Ezechiel’s metaphor of the graveyard of God’s exiled people, God’s word tells them. “I will open your graves … I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” That is not an idle wish. “I have promised, and I will do it.” God’s gift of restoration is resolute and undeterred. “With the Lord, there is mercy and fullness of redemption,” is the psalmist’s hope-filled song. It can be ours, too.

To his community in Rome, caught in conflict and worry over the right path to salvation, Paul’s message is simple. If you belong to Christ and the Spirit of God dwells in you, “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to you through his Spirit dwelling in you.” Christ won for us the victory over every grave, giving us hope. God’s gift of the newness of life has the final say.

Today’s Gospel passage tells us that Jesus went to Bethany, near Jerusalem, to visit the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Jesus had been staying at the Jordan, the site of John’s baptizing, and Jesus’ disciples had tried to dissuade him from going anywhere near Jerusalem because he would put his life at risk. But he had a different purpose in mind, so that Mary and Martha, and mourners from Jerusalem consoling them, would “see the glory of God” and believe that God had sent him. To Martha who had hoped Jesus would come to heal Lazarus when he was ill, Jesus simply said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Thanking his Father for hearing him, he called Lazarus from the tomb. He came out, bound from head to foot in burial shrouds. “Untie him and let him go,” Jesus instructed them. What he said to Lazarus, he says to each of us in our tombs. “Come out,” and to those concerned for us, “untie them and let them go.” The message is clear. The lavish love God showed us in Jesus is unbounded and will not be taken back. It prompts us to thank God for the gift of the newness of life in all its forms. That is the message of hope.

There is another message as well in the readings, an invitation to trust. God’s promise to breathe new life into the bones of the exiled people, the gift of the Spirit of the risen Christ dwelling in us to bring us to new life, and the risen one who can summon everyone out of their graves to newness of life because he is “the resurrection and the life” ― these give reasons for hope. Our graves need not leave us bound, thanks be to God…

Rev. Gilbert Ostdiek, OFM
Professor of Liturgy