Fifth Sunday of Lent: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.”

St Paul had very clear ideas of what it means to be alive and what it means to be dead. For him, life was more than physical health. The fullness of life is a life lived with and for Christ. Paul expressed this succinctly in his Letter to the Galatians: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

Death, for Paul, was a life cut off from our Risen Lord. Thus, he described the newly baptised as those had once been dead but, in Christ, had become life itself.

Long ago the children of Israel had turned away from God. Their lives had become a living death, bereft of hope and purpose. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones expressed this graphically.

Without God the people were as good as dead, no more than dry bones scattered in the wilderness. The prophet brought hope to the living death that life had become for a sinful generation. “I mean to raise you up from your graves. And I shall put my Spirit in you, and you will live.”

As we approach Easter, the celebration of Life in Christ, the liturgy continues to question our lives. Are we truly alive, alive that is, to Christ and those around us? We are called to the prayer that acknowledges all that has died within us. There are many deaths beyond the purely physical. Faith, hope and love, to name the most important, wither and die through our sinfulness. With the psalmist we can experience such sin as a deluge, a sinking into the depths that cries out to God. We want to live, and yet sin, like the unforgiving depths, refuses to surrender its grip. Let us wait on the Lord, count on his word, because with him is found forgiveness.

The raising of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, takes us to Jerusalem and Christ’s approaching death and Resurrection. Jesus described the sickness of Lazarus as something that would end not in death, but in the glory of God. The whole episode would demonstrate what Jesus had taught so often: that to be alive is to know and love the Son, to know and love the Father who sent him.

It was for this reason that Jesus answered Mary’s announcement of Lazarus’s death with the words: “If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

These words reach beyond physical death to the inner death that can so easily take hold of our lives. Even when we feel least alive to God, so long as we entrust ourselves to Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, we shall never die.

Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. He instructed the attendants to unbind him, to set him free from the bands of death. When we turn to the Lord with repentance, his forgiveness has the power to call us from the darkness that we have chosen, to set us free, to bring us to life.