March 9, 2008 Year A
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Reflections on the Readings
By Dennis Hankins
Theme: I Am the Resurrection and the Life
Lent is the liturgical time in which we seek renewal in the Spirit.
Today we are renewing again our understanding that we are a people born of the Spirit. God has put his Spirit in us. This is so we may have fellowship, that is, communion with God who is Spirit. If it were not for God's Spirit within us we would be completed dominated by the flesh.
To be under the dominion of the flesh is to live according to the dictates of our passions. Through prayer and fasting, and works of charity we deny the power of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Because we are in Christ we know the difference between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. But because we are still in these mortal bodies we know that the flesh wars against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. It is in this war in which we seek to know more and deeply the victory of Christ. And Lent is the Holy Season in which we more consciously join ourselves to Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.
So if you were asking why there is an emphasis of rising from the dead in this Fifth Sunday of Lent, now you know the reason. It is not so much to get us ready for Easter Sunday, as it is to grasp more fully the meaning of Christ in us the hope of glory. Our conversion to Christ is not a one-time event, but rather a lifetime of increasing in the life of Jesus.
The seventh sign and miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John is the sign of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
We can see at least three reasons why we are hearing this reading this Fifth Sunday of Lent.
The first reason has to do with friendship. Jesus said to his disciples, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen to sleep." As Jesus draws closer to the time of the cross he says to his disciples, "I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15) It was Mary, a sister of Lazarus who had anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. Such intimacy, such love, such nearness to Jesus is to grow in the friendship of Jesus.
We would do well to cultivate this friendship. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha had this special nearness and friendship to Jesus and his disciples. And we can too. The friendship we have received from the Lord is a friendship that we can return in the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked and the preaching of the good news.
It is in Lent we seek more detachment from the things of this world in order to know our friend Jesus and our brothers and sisters in Jesus better.
Another reason for this Gospel reading today has to do with Jesus' self-disclosure as the Lord of Life. No other person in history has declared himself as having the power of an endless life.
And this life is what the Spirit of Christ imparts to us. We are partakers of the divine nature. Now this does not give us cause to boast as if we have received infinite power by our own merit. It is God who has willed to do his good pleasure in our lives. Let us receive this divine life with the humility that befits the reality. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but into this endless death have we received the very person of Jesus, the resurrection and the life.
Jesus said to Philip, "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?" How is it possible to have always been in Church and around holy things and happenings and still not know Jesus? Philip was present for the feeding of the 5,000. Philip set up the meeting of the Greeks with Jesus. And Philip was with Jesus at the Last Supper. Philip did come to know Jesus as the very revelation of the Father. Jesus will show us himself if we will but open the door of our heart. It is at our heart's door Jesus is knocking this Lent. It is the Lord of Life we invite into our heart.
A third reason for hearing this reading today has to do with the resurrection of our mortal bodies. It has been said that had Jesus only cried out with a loud voice, "COME OUT," that all of the dead in the world would have come out of their graves!
Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept. He wept because of the power of death that had entered the world through disobedience. Such destructive power alienated humankind from its first love. Disobedience is still the way death and alienation enters into our life, our relationship with God and each other. But the One who is the perfect law keeper because he is the perfect law giver stands before our selfish and self destructive lifestyle and cries out our name, releasing us from the power of Satan's death grip on our lives. This is another reason for Lent.
But the bonus is this. 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. That's right. One day the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (I Thessalonians. 4:16-18)
Indeed, comfort one another with these words: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)
Let us pray: Dear Jesus in you is there life and life more abundantly. Help me Jesus to be full of your life. I abhor the stench of death in my life. How often I have allowed the habits and desire of the flesh to bind me to the grave clothes of sin. Help me to put on Christ! Help me to know you who are the Resurrection and the Life! Amen.