• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

5th Sunday of Lent (A)

"I am the Resurrection and the Life."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 43(42):1-2 – “Give me justice, O God, and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless. From the deceitful and cunning, rescue me, for You, O God, are my strength.”

First Reading: Ez 37:12-14 – “I will put My spirit in you that you may live.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 – “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.”

Second Reading: Rom 8:8-11 – “The Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.”

Verse before the Gospel: Jn 11:25a, 26 – “I am the Resurrection and the Life, says the Lord; whoever believes in Me will never die.”

Gospel: Jn 11:1-45 – “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Communion Antiphon: Jn 11:26 – “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will not die for ever, says the Lord.”

As if you haven’t guessed, I am a fan of history and some of my stories these past few weeks as I begin my homilies, attest to that fact. And here is yet another example. The foot soldiers of World War II had no more eloquent spokesman than Ernie Pyle. He told their stories to the folks back home and made the war come alive for those sleeping snug in their beds. One of his best-loved columns is called “The Death of Captain Waskow.”

Writing on January 10, 1944, Pyle describes the mule train carrying the body of Waskow and others. They were descending from a mountain into a dark valley. Seeing them, the war correspondent felt “ashamed to be alive.” The captain, who was revered by his men, had been dead for four days. They laid him down in silence by a low stone wall. One by one the men paid their respects, each in his own way. Pyle heard a young soldier tell his dead captain, “I sure am sorry, sir.” The soldier took the dead man’s hand and sat there holding it for five minutes. He straightened the officer’s collar. Then he stood up and walked away, without a word or a companion. Many who read Pyle’s column some 76 years later have a common response: often they say, “I cried.”

The shortest verse in the Bible is Jn 11:35 And Jesus wept.” Jesus cried among the mourners over His friend, Lazarus. Martha and Mary insisted that their brother would not have died had Jesus come sooner. But as you can sense as the story unfolds, He had taken His sweet time on purpose. They did not understand why. And Jesus wept.” Yet the story does not end there. Death does not have the last word.

The raising of Lazarus is a sign of a new revelation that death is not the final statement to the human condition. Ultimately, because of the possibility of resurrection, life is. Jesus weeps when His followers fail to recognize Him as their source of eternal life. Like the soldier holding his captain’s lifeless hand, Martha and Mary are bereft at the death of their brother. Even when Martha professes her belief in the future resurrection, she does not believe, deep down, that Jesus Himself is the Resurrection and the Life. He weeps in frustration that even His closest friends do not know Him. When Mary and the mourners give free rein to their grief, Jesus’ anger at their lack of comprehension makes Him greatly disturbed in spirit. He yearns for their faith in Him as the victor over death and the revelation of God’s glory. Jesus receives yet another blow when His instruction to open the grave of Lazarus is greeted by Martha’s literal-minded objection that her brother has been dead for four days and will reek to high heaven. His response betrays Jesus’ wrenching disappointment: Didn’t I tell you if you believed, you’d see God’s glory? But their sorrow blinded them.

Jesus bears the cross of knowing that even when He raises Lazarus, some do not believe in Him. Before commanding Lazarus to “Come out!” Jesus thanks His Father for hearing His prayer. He does so for the sake of the crowd that they may believe God has sent Him. Although He can command the mourners to unbind Lazarus and let him go, He cannot force the onlookers to accept Him as the Son of God. Faith remains free. It is ours to accept and it is ours to reject. Among those who do not believe, some will report him to the Pharisees and seek to destroy Him. Their refusal to see who Jesus is keeps them bound in the burial cloths of disbelief. When one of our loved ones dies, we may lose sight of the reality that our spouse, our parent, or our child has not left us. As Karl Rahner writes, “We do not see them, but they see us. Their eyes, radiant with glory, are fixed on our eyes.”

Jesus rejoices with those who gladly believe in Him, deep down, as the resurrection and the life. One of the most consoling prophecies in the Hebrew Testament is Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones. God opens the graves of the unfaithful Israelites and breathes His merciful spirit into them. “And you shall live,” God promises. Folk-rock singer Mark Heard caught the spirit of this life-giving vision when he sang of the “miraculous circumstance / Where the blind ones see and the dry bones dance.” Jesus surely rejoices with those who “Come out!” of their graves of fear and doubt, who dance with hope despite their difficulties, and who believe in Him, deep down, as their resurrection and their life.

When Ernie Pyle looked at the dead soldier, he was “ashamed at being alive.” Death appeared to be an absolute parting. But we believe that we shall be raised and live forever through Jesus Christ. Today we should sit with Jesus in silence and assure Him that we know He is our everlasting life.

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