Scripture Notes for the fifth Sunday of Lent [Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 129 (130); Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45].
In today’s first reading Ezekiel offers imagery of bodily resurrection with the gift of God’s spirit as a symbol of a seemingly improbable promise from God – a promise that his exploited and oppressed people, far from home in a foreign exile, would be enabled to return to their own homeland in freedom.
The God who can raise the dead with his spirit can make extraordinary promises and give hope, even in the here and now.
This idea is also found in today’s Gospel.
When Jesus is told about the illness of his friend Lazarus, he says ‘this sickness will not end in death’, even though he knows Lazarus will die very shortly.
Jesus wants us to understand that what Lazarus is about to experience is not a final kind of death.
This is not just a hint that he will raise Lazarus from his physical death in a miraculous resuscitation. It is meant to prepare us for the idea that will emerge in his conversation with Martha.
Jesus does not merely endorse the common faith in a general resurrection of the dead ‘on the last day’. He goes further.
Jesus claims to be in person the resurrection life, which is the life God gives. He says that he can offer this divine life to all those who are united with him through faith and in loving friendship. This is the real gift of life he shares with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. It is not just a resuscitation to this earthly life but a real resurrection into the life of God, with him.
This gift of divine life is not just offered to Martha, Mary and Lazarus, but to all of us.
It is our faith in the truth of Jesus that allows us to have a share in his life, which is the life of God.
In today’s second reading from his letter to the Romans St. Paul reminds us that this life of God in us, is the Holy Spirit. Through our faith, we belong to Christ and possess the Spirit of God. He tells us that even in the face of bodily death our spirit is alive, it is life itself, because the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in us, and will give life to our mortal bodies.
This is a profound message of hope in these times when we are having to face our fragility and even our mortality in a more intense way than usual. It is not just about hope for a remote eternity but the gift of the Spirit of love right now. The Jesus who offers us this hope is not a remote visionary but a hands-on friend, who weeps out of a personal sense of loss and in compassion with the bereaved. He shares our losses intimately. He knows how we want to be able to live life as fully as possible. The hope he offers is to empower that full life both here and now as well as hereafter.