Though the theme of Sunday's three readings is God-given life, each looks at this life from a different perspective.

Ezekiel, who knows nothing of an afterlife as we know it, delivers Yahweh's promise to his fellow Jews during the Babylonian Exile (Ez 37: 12-14). They eventually will return to the Promised Land, even if Yahweh has "to open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel."

Those words often confuse us. The prophet is not announcing a definitive resurrection from the dead, but a temporary resuscitation. Yahweh will carry through on Yahweh's promise, even if it goes against the "laws of nature."

Life now

Paul isn't speaking about resuscitation when he reminds the Christian community in Rome that "the Spirit...will give life to your mortal bodies" (Rom 8: 8-11). He's simply stating the common, early-Christian belief that those who imitate Jesus' dying by giving themselves to others are already experiencing a form of Jesus' life right here and now, even before they physically die. "If Christ is in you," he writes, "although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness."

We're experiencing this life as we hear these words, the life our ancestors in the faith would have given their lives to receive. Though the Spirit will give us a different, eternal life later, Paul believes we should rejoice in the life we also have now.

John offers a third dimension of life (Jn 11: 1-45). One of the reasons John's Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead is to demonstrate that He can also raise us from the dead. But the evangelist adds something to the mix, something quite radical in John's day and age.

The earliest Christian belief about rising from the dead presumed Jesus' followers would have to cool their bodies in the grave until He returned to claim them in the Parousia. Only then would He collect them from their graves and take them with Him to heaven. Paul writes about this in chapter 4 of the first piece of Christian literature: I Thessalonians.

A change in this belief triggers the Martha/Jesus dialogue in Sunday's Gospel. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," she says.

"Your brother will rise," Jesus replies. Falling back on her old-time Christian belief, Martha responds, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day."

Then Jesus gives the new-fangled resurrection theology John's community had evolved: "I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Seeing Jesus

A few years before John wrote, Luke had altered Paul's idea about our staying in the grave until Jesus' Second Coming by composing a story in Acts in which Stephen, the first Christian martyr, sees Jesus coming for him at the moment of death. Luke believed each disciple of Jesus can expect to have his or her personal Parousia when they die.

John carries Luke's theology one step further. No longer do we have to wait until death to be with Jesus. The life we're expecting in the future has begun long before our physical death. What we perceive as death is just a doorway into another way of experiencing the life we already have.

Our readings tell us that the more we become one with Yahweh/Jesus, the more we notice things about life which we never perceived before. Just as we mature in our physical lives, our sacred authors presume we more deeply appreciate and understand the life into which our faith brings us. From Ezekiel to Paul, to Luke, to John, there are no limits on this understanding.

One wonders where our biblical theology would be taking us today if someone hadn't stopped adding books to the Bible in the second century.