5 Lent, Year A: Easter in Lent

Sunday’s Readings | March 26, 2023

Ezek. 37:1-4
Ps. 130
Rom. 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Deep in the heart of Lent and befitting the season, we hear of loss and death, but we also anticipate the wondrous mystery of the resurrection. We are, in a sense, at the threshold of two times, Good Friday and Easter.

The valley of dry bones is a picture of “the whole house of Israel” during their exile in Babylon. In a foreign land, they sat down and wept; they lost hope, and their lives languished. They counted themselves as good as dead. In the gospel reading, the story of Lazarus in the tomb stands in as a picture of our common humanity, subject as we are to frailty and death. “When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days” (John 11:17). “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly distressed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have they laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:33-36).

These two stories are about death and sorrow, love and tears. The dry bones and Lazarus in the tomb depict humanity fallen into sin and death. “The hand of the Lord” that sets Ezekiel down in the middle of a valley, a valley full of bones, and Jesus standing in sorrow at the grave of Lazarus, offer the consolation of knowing that God is, even in our death, among human beings. We are not alone. “See how [Jesus] loved him!” (John 11:36). It is no small thing to feel and know that God is with us in sorrow.

But is that all? Do we stand before death in defeat and tears?

No. Listen to the Lord speaking to the dry bones: “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 37:5-6). Ezekiel prophesies as instructed. “[A]nd as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live’” (Ezek. 37:7-9).

In this great story, we see in pictures the faith we confess. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” (The Apostles’ Creed). God is our consolation in sorrow, to be sure, but God is the promise also of a final victory. As Jesus speaks to Martha about her brother Lazarus, we hear him speaking about us and to us. “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Jesus gives an audacious command: “Take away the stone.” And then, crying with a loud voice, he says, “Lazarus, come out!” Do we not hear the voice of Jesus addressing our sorrows and our many deaths? He calls us to life and hope, renewal and restoration. He is mighty to save.

Strangely and beautifully, Jesus calls us to participate in the resurrection of our fellow human beings: “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44).

LOOK IT UP: Romans 8:10

THINK ABOUT IT: Christ is in you. The Spirit is life.


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