APRIL 2ND, 2017, FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.
Brothers and sisters:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
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.
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany,
the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil
and dried his feet with her hair;
it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.
So the sisters sent word to him saying,
"Master, the one you love is ill."
hen Jesus heard this he said,
"This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill,
he remained for two days in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to his disciples,
"Let us go back to Judea."
The disciples said to him,
"Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you,
and you want to go back there?"
"Are there not twelve hours in a day?
If one walks during the day, he does not stumble,
because he sees the light of this world.
But if one walks at night, he stumbles,
because the light is not in him."
He said this, and then told them,
"Our friend Lazarus is asleep,
but I am going to awaken him."
So the disciples said to him,
"Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved."
But Jesus was talking about his death,
while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep.
So then Jesus said to them clearly,
"Lazarus has died.
And I am glad for you that I was not there,
that you may believe.
Let us go to him."
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples,
"Let us also go to die with him."
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.
And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
"Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you."
Jesus said to her,
"Your brother will rise."
Martha said to him,
"I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus told her,
"I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?"
She said to him, "Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world."
When she had said this,
she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying,
"The teacher is here and is asking for you."
As soon as she heard this,
she rose quickly and went to him.
For Jesus had not yet come into the village,
but was still where Martha had met him.
So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her
saw Mary get up quickly and go out,
they followed her,
presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him,
she fell at his feet and said to him,
"Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died."
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping,
he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
"Where have you laid him?"
They said to him, "Sir, come and see."
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, "See how he loved him."
But some of them said,
"Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?"
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, "Take away the stone."
Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him,
"Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days."
Jesus said to her,
"Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?"
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
"Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me;
but because of the crowd here I have said this,
that they may believe that you sent me."
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice,
"Lazarus, come out!"
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
"Untie him and let him go."
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
A critical reading of Scripture shows us that we profess a constantly evolving faith. It’s always on the move. Just when we think we’ve nailed it down, we read the next author and discover it’s shifted once again. Because our sacred authors are committed to sharing their ever-changing insights with us, we have no choice but to accompany them on their unique faith journey. Nowhere is this movement clearer than in today’s well-known gospel pericope.
Though I learned very early in my grade school religion classes what exactly was going to happen to me when I took my last mortal breath, our Christian sacred authors never attended those classes. We know from I Thessalonians 4 - the earliest Christian writing we possess – that Paul thought Christians who had the misfortune to die before Jesus’ Second Coming would simply have to spend time in their graves awaiting that event. They would rise only when he/she returned.
The first two evangelists – Mark and Matthew – never say anything which would contradict Paul’s theology. But by the mid-80s when Luke writes his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, faith in the risen Jesus’ imminent return is beginning to wane. We hear in Luke’s narrative of Stephen’s martyrdom that Jesus comes for him at the moment of death; he doesn’t have to wait for the Parousia to have that glorious experience. In some sense, Christians can now expect to have their “personal Parousia” when they die.
John takes Luke’s theology one step further when he writes his gospel in the mid-90s. He uses Jesus’ raising of Lazarus as the vehicle to convey it. In her conversation with Jesus, Mary gives the “old” theology. “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” John’s Jesus then provides us with the “new and improved” theology: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
All who study John know about his knack for pushing “realized eschatology.” In other words, what we expect to happen only at the end of time – the “eschaton” – John presumes is already happening right here and now. In regards to the afterlife, he’s convinced such an existence is already part of our lives even before we breathe our last. In this particular passage, he demonstrates his belief with a sign: Lazarus is alive though he physically died.
Our sacred authors have come a long way from the 6th century BCE days of Ezekiel when there was no belief in an afterlife as we know it. For Yahweh to return all the exiled Chosen People to the Promised Land, he’ll have to actually open up some graves, pull them out and bring them back. But this will be a unique resuscitation; only these particular Jews will experience it. Everyone else’s life will still definitely end with their physical deaths.
Yet even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, now that all people have a chance to achieve eternal life, we’re still not 100% certain in what that life consists. Paul can assure the church in Rome, “. . . The one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” But we know from his I Thessalonians theology that, unlike Luke and John, he doesn’t expect that life to begin until after the Parousia.
Knowing the biblical history revolving around faith in an afterlife, why would we believe that John has provided us with the last word on the subject? Presuming the topic is still evolving, this is one case in which we can validly ask, “What do you think?”