Sunday Scripture Readings

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT, MARCH 13 Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11: 1-45 Here’s a little limerick poem that might help us begin our thoughts on today’s readings: There once was a pious young priest, who lived almost wholly on yeast. He said: "It is plain we must all rise again, and I wanted to get started at least." Today’s message is about death and resurrection and centers around three of Jesus’ statements in the Gospel as He raises Lazarus from the dead. First of all, when the disciples misunderstood Jesus’ earlier comment: "Our beloved Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him," they thought He had been talking about regular sleep. So Jesus very plainly says: "Lazarus has died." Jesus was not afraid to call a spade a spade. Death is simply the opposite end of birth and both birth and death are realistic and inevitable parts of life. Then Jesus follows that by pointing out very clearly that the tunnel of death is the only road to resurrection; there is no detour, no short cut, no way to get around the fact that what Jesus said of Lazarus, "Lazarus has died," will one day be said of each one of us. So, Lent is the perfect time for us to think and pray seriously about this basic fact of life — that we will not get out of this world alive. We all will have to die. The second statement of Jesus is this as He speaks of Himself: "I am the resurrection and the life." These words were meant to take all the dread out of death. They are meant to be the source of our hope that life does not stop at a sign that says "dead end." These words are the assurance that life is changed, not taken away. In the second reading, St. Paul says it this way: "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." And Paul was echoing what Ezekiel had said in the first reading some 800 years earlier: "O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them ... I will put my spirit in you that you may live." Death is simply no match for God’s spirit of life that dwells in each of us. In Jesus’ words that He is the resurrection and the life, He is giving us a gilt-edged guarantee that we will all take one giant step beyond Lazarus’ spectacular resurrection to our own resurrection. Lazarus was given only an extension of his earthly life. He would have to die again, be buried again and have to wait then until the general resurrection. But our intimate union with the risen Jesus through our baptism and other sacraments means that even though we will physically die, in spirit we shall still live in Jesus and eventually our spirit will be reunited with our bodies and rise from the dead hopefully to enjoy everlasting life and happiness. The third special statement of Jesus is comprised of these stirring words: "Lazarus, come out. Untie him and let him go." Jesus says these same words to each one of us. He calls, He commands that we come out of the dark, dreary dungeon of our sinful habits, our fears and frustration. We are not meant to live in a grave or tomb. We were made to live in a world that Jesus has come to save. Nor are we meant to be chained and held captive by anything or anyone that would restrict our freedom as God’s children. We are born free, and we must live free — free from sin and evil — free to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength — free to love others as we love ourselves. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" says: "Christ will raise us up on the last day; but it is also true that in a certain way, we have already risen with Christ. For by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christian life is already now on earth a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ" (CCC no. 1002) Through baptism and the other sacraments, we are united with the one risen Jesus just as the head is united to the body, so Jesus is our indelible claim to our own resurrection. Lazarus may have been brought back to life here on earth, but he is no where as lucky and as blessed as we are. For we have the privilege of receiving Jesus’ risen Body and Blood when we receive Holy Communion. With Jesus’ continued help, we won’t have to go through death twice as Lazarus did. Prayer for the week: Father, help us to be like Christ your Son, who loved the world and died for our salvation. Inspire us by His love and guide us by His example. Amen (David Knight: "Living God’s Word"). Father Smith is a priest of the La Crosse, Wis., Diocese.

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