To our world filled with inordinate love for life and a concomitant fear of suffering and death, God speaks in a special way today. The long and short of His message is that we must trust in Him alone, for nothing is permanent except Him; so, we would do well to fix our gaze on eternal life rather than set our heart on earthly promises.

On this fifth Sunday of Lent, the three Readings give us a supernatural perspective on life and death. Traditionally called Passion Sunday, today marks the start of ‘Passiontide’, a season that invites us to begin a close preparation for Easter. So, in this run-up, let us seek to better understand the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour and to see those stages in our day-to-day life as Christians. The Readings gear us up mentally and spiritually for the greatest mystery of all times.

The First Reading (Ezek 37: 12-14) is drawn from Ezekiel, a major prophet of the Old Testament. Ezekiel focuses on how God is always faithful and keeps His promises. He makes known God’s mercy and justice known through his vision of dry and scattered bones vivified in the valley. The bones represent the Israelites, exiled and dispersed, whereas their revival stands for God’s saving grace. Church Fathers, like St Justin, St Irenaeus and St Tertullian regard Ezekiel’s vision as a proof of the resurrection of the bodies on the last day.

Ezekiel is never quoted word for word in the New Testament, yet in today’s Gospel reading (Jn 11: 1-45) his prophecy is fulfilled. Jesus raises Lazarus in a miracle several notches higher than the cure (last Sunday) of the blind beggar at Siloam. The beggar’s congenital blindness was not a chastisement; Lazarus’ illness was “not unto death”. Jesus delays his coming to Bethany, so he might not merely have to cure but to raise his friend to life – “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” It is the Lord’s final “sign” to the Jews: that they may believe in His divinity and the power of the true God.

Jesus takes yet another step, by clearly proclaiming “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me, even he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” No doubt, such statements cross the limits of human logic; but then, look at Thomas: he would later be dubbed ‘the doubting’ one but is presently ready to die with the Lord!. Are we ready to leave behind our earthly knowledge and pride and believe in His logic?

For their part, the disciples do not seem to understand what Jesus means by saying that Lazarus “has fallen asleep”; they had probably forgotten how He had once raised the daughter of Jairus! And the Bethany household too were bemused by Jesus who said “Your brother will rise again.” When? Martha in her limited human comprehension took it to be the resurrection on the last day.

What if we looked through Martha’s glasses: what would we see? And now that we know what happened two millennia ago, do we believe that He is the Resurrection and the Life? Are we ready to leave behind our earthly possessions and wear spectacles of faith? Can we confidently say that ours is an awesome God, who never fails – and never fails us?

But then, it all seems so paradoxical… The One who gave life to Lazarus was put to death soon thereafter! And Mary who had anointed Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair was only prefiguring his burial. And Martha who knew Jesus so well was so naïve as to say, “Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days,” as though dissuading the Lord from performing so clean a miracle that was waiting to happen.

But all is grist that comes to the mill of the Author of Life. He can turn bad odours into fragrances, transform death into life. But alas, that fragrance of divine fidelity was paid back with the odour of human infidelity: life was repaid with death. The Jews left unmoved by the marvel wrought by the Lord nonetheless moved hurriedly to complain against Him to the Sanhedrin. And the rest is history…

Today, we are those Lazaruses wounded by sin; unless rescued by Christ, we shall remain like dry bones in this valley of tears. St Paul (Rom 8: 8-11) reminds us that the Spirit of God, of Him who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in us. We must pray that, in untying our sinful bandages, He forgives us our sins. As Pope John Paul II once said, “The real strength of a man lies in the fidelity of his witness to the truth and in his resisting flattery, threats, misunderstandings, blackmail, even harsh and relentless persecution. This is the path on which our Redeemer calls us to follow him.”[1]

[1] From the Passion Sunday sermon of Pope Saint John Paul II, 2002