I Am the Resurrection and the Life: Fifth Sunday and Passiontide

The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio, 1310–11 wikipedia/public domain

‘I am the resurrection and the life…Do you believe this’? (Jn. 11:25-26).

The fifth Sunday in Lent marks the beginning of Passiontide. We will now begin to recall the events most closely preceding the days of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and glorious Resurrection, the Paschal Triduum. Our Gospel reading recounts the resurrection of Lazarus which prefigures Our Lord’s own Resurrection. This account places before us the ultimate mystery of our existence. ‘I am the resurrection and the life…Do you believe this’? (Jn. 11:25-26). With Martha we also place our faith and hope in Jesus Our Saviour: ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world’ (Jn. 11:27).

This act of faith that we make individually and collectively establishes us in a communion with Christ Our Saviour in this life. Consequently, we make a serious and purposeful commitment to Christian discipleship that prepares us to overcome the barrier of death not only at the moment of death but even as we live our lives here and now; because faith in the resurrection of the dead and the hope of eternal life open our eyes the ultimate meaning of human existence. God created us for resurrection and life; and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, and to politics. This is the culture of life. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb, devoid of any future, any hope. This, by contrast, is the culture of death.

Consequently, we have a definitive perspective on human existence and this perspective encompasses the totality of who we are and who we become; for life, we well know, is not static. Christian life is a journey into the mystery of God Himself. This is how St John Henry Newman described the dynamic nature of our Christian life: Christ himself vouchsafes to repeat in each of us in figure and in mystery all that He did and suffered in the flesh. He is formed in us, born in us, suffers in us, rises again in us, lives in us….We are ever receiving our birth, our justification, our renewal, ever dying to sin, ever rising to righteousness (Sermon 10, “Righteousness Not of Us, But in Us” in Parochial and Plain Sermons, p. 1048). These words capture the nature and purpose of our Christian commitment and because of this truth we affirm the beauty and purpose of life, of sacrifice of suffering, because all these contribute to our transformation in Christ. In this process, nature and grace work in concert and we experience the truth of Our Lord’s own words: Abide in me, as I in you (Jn. 15:4). God is present in our joys and in our sorrows, in our life and even in our death, when it comes. Every stage of our human life has been sanctified and consecrated by the presence of the Son of God.

‘Untie him and let him go’ (Jn. 11:44). Though these words were spoken of Lazarus by Our Lord, they are no less applicable to you and me personally and to all of humanity collectively. In Lazarus we can see humanity freed and no longer bound by the finality and darkness of the tomb. All that we are and become in the course of our earthly life has value and meaning and purpose. Jesus is the Lord of history, the one who was to come into this world precisely because each human person is of infinite value; and that is why in choosing to live life with our ultimate purpose in mind we become one with the disciples of Christ Our Lord throughout history in building the culture of life. This is the culture that sees the protection of persons in their moral, intellectual and spiritual development as the defining goals of society; namely, our daily lives, education, culture, politics, and even the economy.

Evidently, not everyone sees it this way but we do and we must be clear about this. Our Lord has chosen us to be the light of the world though this privilege is not without cost. ‘If you were of the world, the word would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you’ (Jn. 15: 19-20). The great Spanish mystic, St Teresa of Avila observed: We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials. Nevertheless, we draw our strength from the One who has conquered sin and death. ‘In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (Jn. 16:33).

The sacred liturgy of this fifth Sunday in Lent reminds us that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from dead, which the resurrection of Lazarus prefigures, is the event that gives ultimate meaning to our human existence; and not only our existence but also to our suffering and even most especially to our death. In Christ Crucified and Risen is manifested the power of God and His love for us His children. ‘For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it gain: this charge I have received from my Father’ (Jn. 10: 17:18). His victory is our victory and the truth and splendour of His resurrection enlighten our lives now and most especially, at the hour of our death. May we never fail to draw strength and consolation from the Passion of Our Saviour, and may the memory of the Lord’s Passion be always in our hearts.