I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die John 11:25a, 26.
It is true to say that the New Testament teaches us the Old Testament, just as Saint Jerome said ignorance of the Old Testament is ignorance of Christ. It is today’s Gospel of the raising of Lazarus that puts this passage from Ezekiel in its proper light. The “sign” which Jesus revealed in telling Lazarus to come out of the tomb was that God is true to his promise that he would be faithful and never abandon his whole people and the individuals among his people to everlasting death. He made us for all eternity — an eternity in his heavenly presence. Bodily death cannot put an end to God’s plan of eternal life for mankind. Recall that in today’s Gospel Jesus decided to go to the tomb of Lazarus knowing that his detractors would eventually kill him.
The expressions used by Ezekiel come from the historical setting. Being in the Babylonian Exile was like death. God kept his promise to liberate them some way and bring them back to their homeland as free people. This he did and restored them to the land where they could worship God as he wanted and live the covenant commandments to please him. The new element in Ezekiel’s prophecy is that the Lord would send his Spirit upon them to make them alive. From death to life, we might say. This short passage from the Old Testament prophet is really a continuation and explanation of the vision of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37). As he says today: You shall know that I am the LORD who freed you from Egypt and formed an eternal covenant with you, promising you life that never ends and doing it. I have promised and I will do it, says the Lord.
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (7)
With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
The phrase I will open your graves (tombs) may have suggested using this psalm which begins Out of the depths (of sheol — sheol being the realm of the dead). Then the wonderful hope in God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness: If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand. The promise to overlook our sinfulness and unfaithfulness so that the covenant may continue on our behalf. Thus it follows: For with the Lord is kindness (faithful covenant love), and with him plenteous redemption. Then following Ezekiel’s faith perspective, the whole people of God (Israel) will be freed from their sins. Looking forward to today’s Gospel the most important element here may be the covenant love. In the Lazarus account Jesus’ love for him and his family plays a prominent role. Jesus did what he did (even the point of death on the cross) to raise Lazarus from the dead.
Why is God doing all this for us through his Son: that he may be revered? So that we will love him back and live forever.
By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Alternate version of the Collect/Gathering Prayer
It is our heart’s desire and prayer of you, O Lord, God of your people, that we imitate by a joyful way of life the faithful covenant love of Jesus Christ, who freely gave himself and his life for us inspired by that same love that caused him to enter this world to save us
The scriptures have a special meaning in using the word love. It is connected to his covenant with his people, including the New Covenant established by his Son, the Word made flesh. There is a relationship between this prayer and the Gospel of the raising of Lazarus. Underlying it all is the fact that Jesus is the Covenant between heaven and earth. He is the Covenant in the flesh. Being so, his whole life and presence is the reality of God’s love for mankind. So to become like Christ Jesus we must live our lives originating, and constantly professing the love of Christ. This prayer is a plea that we, the body of Christ, will live such a life here and hereafter. The added element here is that we follow Christ’s love as the love of our crucified Lord, who so loved for others in giving his life. He love with all his heart and soul.
Saint Paul brings up an interesting point regarding the Holy Spirit in the light of the Gospel concerning the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ own resurrection. The Apostle states: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead makes his home in you, then that same person will give life to your mortal bodies through the same Spirit. Spirit and life are joined. The life of the Spirit in you assures you that you have been raised along with the Christ. The life of which Saint Paul speaks is a life of holiness guaranteeing the eternal inheritance of the sons and daughters of God. (This is also in the same chapter of the Letter to the Romans 8:14-17, just after our reading today.) How does this apply to Lazarus who had a baptism of sorts in which he died in Christ? He now “lives” and will live the rest of his life assured of resurrection to eternal life because of Christ’s Spirit in him. The Spirit of Christ and resurrection go together for us as well — the Spirit which descended upon Jesus at his baptism and which dwells in him prompting him to take the dangerous step of going to the area of Jerusalem, the hotbed of opposition and threats. Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus shows that he conquers sin and death. Therefore the crowds believe in him.
The raising of Lazarus is more about the death of Jesus than the death of Lazarus. The opposing Jewish leaders thought that if Jesus has the power to overcome death then they will prove him wrong by killing him. This way his whole preaching would fall apart and people will no longer follow him. Instead the people would once again follow their religious leadership. This was not God’s way and Jesus succeeded in overcoming sin and death according to the Father’s plan.
So John, the author of this Gospel and the disciple whom Jesus loved, gives us key phrases to understanding the whole passage.
He ends up with: Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
John also tells us in the beginning: This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.
Jesus calls Martha to faith: I am the resurrection and the life…If you believe, you will see the glory of God.
The whole passage is to lead to faith in the risen Lord Jesus.
Bodily death is not to be confused with disastrous death which is separation from God. With Christ’s death and resurrection separation from God is no more for believers. That is the glory of God we see through faith.
The presence of the risen Jesus is now. We do not have to wait for the end of the world. Communion with God is current for us who believe and see the glory of God.