|4/12/2017 9:00:00 AM|
A breath of new life
|TEEN STATIONS OF CROSS: The youth group from St. Mary’s parish in Glens Falls led Stations of the Cross with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, for parishioners in March. The evening began with a pizza dinner before the prayers and ended with family bowling. Maria Leonard Nate Kroeze led the first station (center photo).|
BY REV. ANTHONY BARRATTThe readings from Scripture for the fifth Sunday in Lent bring us face to face with the mystery and painful reality of death. In fact, all of the readings could be used for a funeral Mass.
In the preceding verses of Chapter 37 of the book of the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel has a vision of a valley of dry bones that are brought to life by God's Spirit. Then our reading begins (Ezek 37:12-14) as we hear the prophecy that God will open the graves and raise His people.
This prophecy, is of course, fulfilled in Jesus' death and resurrection. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans (8:6-11), brings home this point as he writes that those who are dead to sin can be alive through righteousness and that the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies.
He also reminds us it is the Spirit that animates and gives life to our body. In the Gospel (Jn 11:1-45), we hear of the last and greatest of the seven "signs" worked by Jesus that St. John wishes us to see: Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus is "the resurrection and the life."
As we read about the death of Jesus' friend, Lazarus, we also encounter the full spectrum of human emotions that accompany loss and bereavement. Take, for example, Lazarus' two sisters Mary and Martha: Mary is so upset that she cannot leave the house; whereas Martha, ever practical, greets Jesus and questions Him.
We meet another human reaction when some in the crowd shake their heads and pointedly ask why Jesus did not save His friend. We should also grasp the full reality of Lazarus' death. The fact that he has been in the tomb for four days means that he is decomposing (Jesus is warned of the stench), and it was a belief that the spirit truly leaves the body after three days. Jesus has raised others, such as the daughter of Jairus or the son of the widow of Nain, but they had been dead for just a few hours. What will happen this time?
Jesus becomes the focus as He works this last, great sign. There is a beautiful interplay between the humanity and the divinity of Jesus in the Gospel. Humanly, Jesus is deeply moved (we might translate His feeling as "gut-wrenching"), and we have those two, short, profound words that "Jesus wept."
Interestingly, several different and powerful words are used to describe Jesus' emotions. These are rare in John's Gospel. They also occur later on, when Jesus is betrayed and when He hangs upon the cross. Jesus has indeed experienced all that humans can feel -- not as a pretense or show, but really feeling grief, death, betrayal, abandonment, pain, hunger and thirst. He is our brother.
But Jesus is truly God. Jesus has already given one of the "I am" sayings that we find in John's Gospel to show His divinity. He calls Lazarus out of the tomb and restores Lazarus to life. The bonds of death, symbolized in the burial bands that wrap Lazarus, are undone, and he is released and free again. We might also say that he restores Martha and Mary back to new life too, for the death of a loved one can make us "die inside."
The artist Caravaggio in his 1609 painting of the scene captures this beautifully: A discolored, pale, rigid and lifeless Lazarus is held tenderly by his grieving sister; but, in doing this, the relatives will be the first to experience the warmth returning to his body and that first breath of new life.
Jesus is our resurrection and life. Our readings, of course, remind us of our faith in the promise of resurrection when our life's journey is complete. This new life is not just for the future. Jesus, the resurrection and the life, brings life to us now, when our spirit is dying, and so unbinds us from things that hold us in bondage: addictions, anger, bitterness, hurts.
Let us repeat Martha's words: "Yes, Lord, I believe."
(Father Barratt is a writer for the "Word of Faith" Scripture column in The Evangelist, director of the diocesan Office of Prayer and Worship and pastor of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson/Germantown.)
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