5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

We’re a week away from the start of Holy Week. Our Lord now has his sights set on Jerusalem, and the pace is quickening. In these next two weeks we’re living just one part of the Gospel passage from today: an encounter with the reality of suffering and death. Jesus is asking us to have faith in him.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Ezekiel reminds us of the Lord’s promise to not only to bring us back to life, but to bring us home. It doesn’t take theology or catechism to realize that death is the biggest “game over” we experience in life. Even believing in the Resurrection does not spare us from fearing the fact that we have to be resurrected from something intrinsically unpleasant: death. Yet even as we lower our loved ones into the tomb we are encouraged by the promise of the Lord that death will not have the last word. We’ll not only be restored to life; we’ll be brought home and returned to those we love.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that faith in being restored to life is not enough. We have to believe that we have to bear Christ within us to that the Spirit may restore us to life. If we just believe in reincarnation, or being absorbed into some cosmic energy, or just living on in the memory of those we leave behind or some cold stone monument, God’s power cannot restore us to life. When we receive baptism we die in Christ. We go under the water to represent descending into death, but we also bind our fate with that of Christ’s and rise up from the waters of death into new life. Next Sunday we’ll remember Christ’s journey from Incarnation to Passion and Death, and we’ll participate in that. However, in faith and in Christ, we know that was not the end of Our Lord’s story, and it will not be the end of ours either.

In the Gospel today, Jesus shows us our faith combined with him is something much more. It is not just a passive faith that takes the shots as they come. Through Martha’s faith in Christ we see the power of belief conjoined to God. When news reaches him that Lazarus was sick, he didn’t go hurrying to Bethany, and said the illness would not end in death. However, he also added something a little more mysterious, something the disciples didn’t pick up on: the illness was “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” In our life of faith we have to be attentive to Our Lord’s words, because often at first glance we can pass over what he is really trying to say to us. Faith is not just an assent to something presented to us as credible. It is also a source of light. We can go back to Our Lord’s words over and over in faith and find new light and new meaning.

No one expected Our Lord would be able to bring back someone who’d been dead for days. All the other people he’d raised from the dead had only recently died. When Jesus told Martha her brother would rise, she knew, but she just thought Jesus was consoling her with the Jewish belief – even before Christ’s Resurrection – that Lazarus would be raised with everyone else on the last day. Martha’s faith had been strong enough to withstand not seeing Jesus for days and watching her brother die. It was strong enough to be the instrument for the sign he wanted to work for many other believers: the raising of her brother from death. So he invited her to believe that even those who believed and died would live. She put her faith in him, not just the Jewish teaching about a future resurrection. When Jesus ordered the tomb to be opened, Martha’s faith was rewarded, and the power of God through those who believe was shown.

When we visit the tombs of our departed loved ones, do we really believe the words of Ezekiel in today’s First Reading will come true? Can we imagine their tombs being opened one day and being reunited with them again? Let’s strive for the same faith as Mary and Martha. Our Lord will work a miracle that goes way beyond out expectations.

Readings: Ezekiel 37:12–14; Psalm 130:1–8; Romans 8:8–11; John 11:1–45.