5th Sunday of Lent, Year A.
Ezekiel 37:12-14 – Romans 8:8-11 – John 11:1-45.
It’s an obvious fact that an awful lot of us are scared. We are afraid, fearful. We might be scared of having to speak in public, we might be afraid of being outdoors (agoraphobia) or have a fear of heights (acrophobia), spiders (arachnophobia) and so on. But the greatest of all our fears is undoubtedly the fear of death. Without faith we fear undergoing death because, as human beings, we see it as final, reaching the finishing line of this life and of everything we have known. Even when we think about physical death with the eye of faith, we don’t really know in concrete terms what to expect beyond that. The prospect of death can be really frightening.
But what if I were to tell you that I know of Someone who has authority over death, hell and grace? What if I were to tell you that there is Someone who has the solution to the fear of death because He knows what lies beyond it? What if I were to tell you that there really is Somebody who can bring life out of brokenness, death and decay? His name is Jesus Christ, the Lord. According to the Gospel reading of last Sunday, after the man born blind had been helped to see both physical and spiritually, that same man was gradually led to understand that Jesus is the Lord. In making a paste from the soil of the earth and creating sight for the man, the Lord was showing both him and us who He really is. In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, the Lord shows us that He does not only have the capacity to heal our physical ailments, but that He also has the capacity to raise us from death to life! He can remove our fear of death. He can remove anything and everything that we are afraid of in our lives.
Jesus overcomes death. At Easter He demonstrated that by the Resurrection. He is the resurrection and the life and the giver of all life.
In the First Reading, from the prophet Ezekiel, we heard the famous passage where God promised that He will recreate and raise His people from their graves, people who were like dry bones lying in a valley. In verse 13 he says, “and you will know that I Am the Lord”. How can we know that He is the Lord? Because He says, “you will know that I Am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people”. He continues, “And I shall put my spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this”.
In this prophecy, Ezekiel was talking about the rebuilding of the nation of Israel someday; over and above that, however, it is a message for us because it is about the rebuilding of our own lives from brokenness, shame, sin and death back to health and life. God, who spoke to Ezekiel, is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). His word lasts forever and is for all ages and generations, now and in the future, because He, God, is eternal.
This message is expanded upon in today’s Second Reading and Gospel passage. God is rebuilding us, remoulding us and revitalizing us through the action of His Spirit! In the Second Reading, St. Paul reminds us that if the Spirit of Christ is in someone, then the spirit of that person who was dead in sin ‘is life’. (Take note that he didn’t say “is alive” but “is life”. This is because Jesus ‘is life’ Himself, so anybody who has His Spirit possesses life and for that person death exists no more.)
In the Gospel reading, we find the Lord sending His Spirit (echoing the First Reading and speaking that word of life and resurrection) into Lazarus, who was dead and buried. Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in practical terms, for He is life itself and the life-giver. He is the Lord. The word of God says, “You will know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people”. Jesus is Lord over the grave. He is Lord over our brokenness. The raising of Lazarus was not for show, but to give glory to God who does all things well. Jesus said, “This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified” (Jn 11:4).
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and ordered him to come out of the burial chamber. The word of God states that the dead man came out with “his feet and hands bound”. Jesus gave a second order: “unbind him, let him go free”. This is what Jesus does for each of us when, having raised us from death and decadence, He unbinds us and makes us free in the Spirit. He not only gives us new life, but He also sets us free from everything that holds us in bondage. What is it in your life that binds you? What is it in your life that runs contrary to the freedom that Jesus gives us when He raises us to new life in Him? What are you afraid of at the moment? Jesus sets you and me free from whatever it is – and indeed from everything that scares us to death. He says to us too, “unbind him, let him go free”.
My dear friends in Christ, whenever you find yourself in bondage to a sin or feeling dead and dry inside like those dry bones in the valley, I urge you to go to Jesus and confess your sins, because He will unbind you from them and give you new life in the Spirit. His promise is that He will put His Spirit in you! With His Spirit in you, around you, with you, above you and below you, then you will be full of life. There is no need for you to fear any ill because you shall rise again! The grave (whether it be actual or metaphysical) will be opened, and in place of the stench of decay we shall smell the sweet fragrance of God’s glory.
What is Jesus telling you and me today? He is telling us that He is eternal. He is telling us that He is always on hand, waiting for us, ready to restore us to the fullness of life. No matter whether we have been long in our graves and a stench is emanating from our souls and bodies, no matter whether we sense that our lives are rotting away, no matter whether we feel there is no remedy for the situation in which we find ourselves and wail to him, “Lord, if you had been here for me, Lord if you had been here for us, this or that wouldn’t have happened”, He assures us that He will revisit that dire situation and heal us of it. He will heal the world again, for it belongs to Him. He will unbind you and put His Spirit in you, for He is the eternal Lord and God. “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption” (Ps 129:7).