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Give Us New Life

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A (26/03/2023)

(Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45)

By Fr. Samuel Odeh

We consider the natural life we were born with, as well as the life of faith we have, as both wonderful gifts from God.  However, we must confront the reality of our own death and dying quite often.  We all will die someday.  Death touches us through the death of loved ones who are dear to us, but we also grieve and are sorrowful over the loss of health to illness, the loss of our homes and accommodation, the loss of our jobs or employment, the loss of trust and good relations between ourselves in our communities which can lead to violence, and some of us grieve the break up of families and the loss of our life partners.  All of these are death-dealing situations and can properly be represented by the grave, the place of our burial. 

In today’s first reading, the prophet Ezekiel is in a valley filled with the dry bones of dead people, and these represent the house of Israel, grieving in exile, away from its homeland, having lost all hope.  God asks Ezekiel to say to the people, “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel.”  Not only does God promise to open their graves and raise their dead from their graves, but he also promised to put his life in his people so that they may now live with a new life: “And I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live…”.  The second reading from Saint Paul’s letter talks about the promised gift of God’s Spirit which all Christians received at their Baptism.  This Spirit makes those who have received it children of God.  It is a life-giving spirit which makes all children of God capable of overcoming death and all death-dealing situations because the Spirit prays within us.  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.”  Our Gospel reading today is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  As we approach Holy Week when we celebrate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus it is important to note that he worked this miracle while his own life was in danger from his enemies in Jerusalem, not far from Bethany where Lazarus lived with his sisters, Martha and Mary, all friends of Jesus.  When the sisters met Jesus they were disappointed Jesus had not come earlier since they had sent word to him that Lazarus was sick; Jesus would have healed him and prevented him from dying.  Jesus had delayed two days and had announced to his disciples that Lazarus’s situation was an occasion for the glory of God to be made manifest.  All people of faith can follow Jesus’ example here in giving glory to God through challenging situations; in times of difficulty and hardship, we are to be Christ for each other.  Let us be Christ for others, especially those who are bereaved.  Martha and Mary, in spite of their disappointment, anger, and frustration continued to believe in Jesus, and expressed their faith in the final resurrection that their brother will rise to life on the last day, but Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life…”.  Jesus stood before the opened grave of the dead man and called to him, “Lazarus, come out!”.  Finally, Jesus commanded, when Lazarus had risen and had come out, “Unbind him, and let him go.”. The difference between this resurrection and that of Jesus is that Lazarus will die again.  Jesus risen from the dead will never die again.  The resurrection of Christ Jesus to a life that lasts forever is promised to all who die believing in him.

Today let us invite the Lord into any situation that challenges our faith.  May we see Christ standing before the graves that may be in our lives: the graves of sin; the graves of wickedness and malice; the graves of hatred and violence; the graves of hopelessness and fear. May he command his life-giving spirit into us to untie us and set us free from anything that keeps us from enjoying the freedom of the children of God.  May we live our lives, even now, with the spirit that already shares in the resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Lord, give us life that we may praise you.

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