Father Donald Senior, CP

March 29: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Resurrection of the body

Ez 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

This Sunday’s readings present us with one of the most challenging convictions of our Christian faith — the resurrection of our bodies.

The first reading from Ezekiel comes from the dramatic scene of the “dry bones.” In a dream sequence, God takes the prophet to a desert place littered with dry bones and asks, “Can these bones come back to life?” 

Ezekiel prudently says, “Lord, you alone know that.” Then God breathes his spirit on the bones, and they knit back together, take on flesh and become a new people. The reading in the Lectionary picks up the story at this point. The Lord declares: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you to the land of Israel.”

This Old Testament dream reflected Israel’s trust that God would restore his people after the shattering experience of the exile. It also foreshadows a conviction that would become stronger in Israel — and especially in early Christianity — that God would bring about the resurrection of the dead, body and spirit. 

That is the conviction Paul expresses in the second reading taken from his Letter to the Romans. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”

From the Gospel of John we hear the powerful story of the raising of Lazarus, an event at the end of Jesus’ public ministry and on the brink of his passion. Many interpreters of John see it as a summation of the entire mission of Jesus. 

The story emphasizes Jesus’ love for his friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. He weeps when he hears news of his friend’s death (“See how he loved him,” the bystanders say).  When Jesus goes to Bethany, Martha comes out to greet him. In their encounter at this moment of loss and sorrow, Jesus declares solemnly: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus’ words draw from Martha one of the New Testament’s most explicit confessions of faith: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

The dramatic climax of John’s story comes as Jesus reaches the gravesite of his friend. He tells those nearby to roll back the stone even though Lazarus has been buried for four days. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus commands his friend, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus, still wrapped in his burial clothes, comes out of the tomb alive. 

Jesus’ final words say it all: “Untie him and let him go free.” These words, in a true sense, sum up the entire mission of Jesus. He has been sent by God to reveal God’s redemptive love for the world, to liberate those he loves from the scourge of death and to set them free.

What are we to make of this testimony that we are destined, body and spirit, for life beyond death? How can we imagine such life eternal? What kind of a body will we have? Will we recognize ourselves and the people we have loved?  

Recently I read a beautiful reflection by the theologian Cathleen Kaveny as she wrestled with the death of her mother. “What age will our bodies be when they’re resurrected?” she asks. Will her mother be back in her 30s, or in her frail old age?

Even as we trust in God’s Word, the answers to such questions fail us. But Cathleen Kaveny reminds us of St. Augustine’s notion of eternity as the “fullness of time — as including, honoring, and yet transcending the slivers of existence that time parcels out to us moment by moment.” 

We might then think of our redeemed bodies almost like diamonds, simultaneously refracting different times of our lives as we turn in the light of God’s love. As Ezekiel confessed, “You alone, Lord, know that.”



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