‘If there is no resurrection from the dead, Christ himself cannot have been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless, and your believing is useless.” St Paul, writing to the community in Corinth, left no doubt that Christ’s death and Resurrection are faith’s unyielding foundation. Death and resurrection represent our darkest fears and greatest hopes. It is our sharing in Christ’s death that conquers fear and our sharing in his Resurrection that kindles hope.
The readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent lead our prayer into the mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection. They invite us to understand our own lives as a continuing death and resurrection. The Prophet Ezekiel had witnessed the death of a nation and the obliteration of its hope. Such was the catastrophe that had overwhelmed Israel at the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of her population. For the few that had survived life became a living death, graphically expressed in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dried bones. The prophet spoke words of hope to a people for whom life had lost its meaning. “The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves: I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, knowing that I, the Lord, have said and done this.” The vision reminds us that sin, despite its superficial attraction, destroys hearts created for the love of God. Without God life becomes as dry as the bare bones described in Ezekiel’s vision. Ours becomes a living death in which we long for a breath of life, the breath of God’s living presence.
Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones describes Lent’s journey. On Ash Wednesday we began with the call to repentance. Repentance begins with the acknowledgment of all that has died within us. True repentance becomes hope and belief, the belief that Christ himself embraces our death, raising our inner selves to new life. This new life, proclaimed by St Paul, conquers sin’s living death. “Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself.”
John’s account of the raising of the dead Lazarus is more than the account of a single miracle that took place long ago. It is a sign,
a pointer, to the way in which Christ fills our lives, becoming our resurrection and our life. The detail of the narrative underlines that our incarnate Lord embraced the tragedy of death in all its dimensions. He loved Lazarus and was concerned for his sisters. He knew within himself the anguish of bereavement. We are told that Jesus was in great distress as he approached the grieving family, that he wept with a sigh that came straight from the heart.
Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, commanding that he be stripped of the shrouds that had bound him in death. In like manner, Christ, our Risen Lord, summons us from the darkness of sin and fear. He sets us free, speaking directly to all that has died within us. “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Yes, Lord, we believe, because dying you have destroyed our death, and rising you have restored our life.