Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday in Lenten Week IV - Preparing for Solidarity Sunday and the Raising of Lazarus

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

O God, who reward the merits of the just and offer pardon to sinners who do penance, have mercy, we pray, on those who call upon you, that the confession of our guilt may serve to obtain your pardon for our sins. Through our Lord.

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Jesus Wept


Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year “A”) – April 10, 2011 -- JESUS OFFERS EVERYONE THE RESURRECTION LIFE [Texts: Ezekiel 37.12-14 [Psalm 130]; Romans 8.8-11; John 11.1-45]

Coming after Jesus' cure of a man born blind, with which it is linked (“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?'”), Jesus' raising Lazarus from the tomb proclaims Jesus' offer of light and life.

The Church reads the Lazarus story during Lent not merely to encourage catechumens awaiting Baptism at Easter. For the liturgy stresses that Lent is a time for all Jesus' disciples to renew the baptismal commitment they made or their parents and godparents made for them.

The Preface of this Fifth Sunday of Lent summarizes the issues at play in Lazarus' restoration to life: “As a man like us, Jesus wept for Lazarus his friend. As the eternal God, he raised Jesus from the dead. Christ gives us the sacraments to lift us up to everlasting life”.

The commitment to live Jesus' risen life, which catechumens make at the Easter Vigil, is challenged by the difficulties people face along life's journey. Often, the supreme test comes when someone encounters the mystery of human mortality, their own imminent death or that of a loved one.

Martha's statement to Jesus expressed the human struggle with her brother's death, that seemed premature, even absurd. Why did God allow it and why, she asked, did Jesus not intervene to prevent it: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.

Jesus was affected by the death of his friend Lazarus. Powerful, emotional expressions describe the inner turmoil Jesus felt in anticipating His coming death (“Jesus began to weep... Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb”).

Death offers opportunities for deepening one's faith in God. And Jesus' gratitude showed the way, “Father, I thank you for having heard me”.

Martha expressed faith in Jesus, but flinched when Jesus ordered the opening of Lazarus' tomb. Her faith needed to press on, beyond the death of her brother, to accept Jesus' teaching, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”.

Jesus brought Lazarus back to earthly existence. But his purpose was greater—to offer humanity an eternal life that death cannot touch. Because they believe, Christ's followers never fully die: “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live”. Jesus' challenge to Martha is put before everyone, “Do you believe this?”

The life to which Lazarus was raised was a natural one and good. Jesus wanted it to represent eternal life, which only God possesses. And Jesus, as God's only Son, makes that life possible for believing disciples who, like Martha, share her faith.

Ezekiel's vision of the Valley of Dry Bones is his best-known passage (37.1-11). God pledged to cover skeletons with sinews, flesh and skin, giving each individual the breath of life. The interpretation of the vision (37.12-14) applied it to the House of Israel in its despair and lack of hope.

The Church sees in Ezekiel's vision anticipations of both Jesus' resurrection and the general resurrection at the end of time. It is appropriate as a commentary on the raising of Lazarus only to a limited degree. For Lazarus' restoration to life—a “resuscitation” rather than a resurrection, since he died again—points to Jesus' coming, definitive resurrection.

Paul tells how death and life are intermingled in Christian life (“though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness”). Still, the predominant emphasis he gives is that God's Spirit offers the Christian a foretaste of eternal life here and now.

With a series of formulas—Christians are “in the Spirit”; “the Spirit of God dwells in you”; disciples “have the Spirit of Christ”, (Romans 8.9); “Christ dwells in you” (8.10); “the Spirit of God ... dwells in you” (8.11)—Paul tries to describe the symbiotic relationship between the risen Christ and the Christian who will be raised from the dead.

True, Christians will die from the consequences of sin at work in their lives. But this is not God's final word. In the end, God intends to share Christ's triumph with his disciples: “God who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you”.

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