Resurrection from the Dead: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Unknown Artist. The Raising of Lazarus. Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. Ravenna ITALY. 6th century

Central idea: Resurrection from the dead. Doctrine: Death and hope in our own resurrection. Practical application: A proper awareness of death.

To view the Lectionary 34 readings, click here.

Central Idea: Resurrection from the Dead

Reading 1 Ez 37:12-14

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.

  • This passage foreshadows the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which God revealed to his people little by little (CCC 992).
  • According to the Catechism, the Chosen People’s hope in the resurrection of the dead was a consequence of two things. One was faith in “God as creator of the whole man, soul and body.” The other was faith that God would maintain his “covenant with Abraham and his posterity” (CCC 992). This is why the Maccabean martyrs confessed:

The King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws. One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. (2 Mac 7:9.14, quoted in CCC 992)

Responsorial Psalm Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

R. With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.

If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
LORD, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.

I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the LORD.

For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.

  • It is hard to see the connection between sin and death. But this psalm and the entire Deposit of Faith claim that the ultimate cause of every human suffering is sin. The collective impact of sin even makes the innocent suffer. The ultimate human suffering is death. The solution to sin is the Redemption, which includes both the forgiveness of sins and the elevation of human beings to eternal life with God.
  • This psalm can be read in many ways with its plea from “out of the depths” and its waiting in darkness “for the dawn.” Three such ways are the plea of any person on the brink of death; any soul in Purgatory; and Lazarus between his death and his resurrection by Christ.

Reading 2 Rom 8:8-11

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.

  • The spirit, the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ mean the sanctifying grace we received in Baptism through which we share in God’s life. The flesh means our condition before Baptism.
  • Through the Sacraments, beginning with Baptism, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the one who raised Christ from the dead, dwells in us.
  • This is why we hope in our own resurrection from the dead.
  • Our spirit, however, can become dead because of mortal sin committed after Baptism. Christ gave his Church a sacrament for that: Penance or Reconciliation.

Gospel Jn 11:1-45

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.”
When 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?”
Jesus answered,
“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.

  • The death of Lazarus was an evil that deprived him of life, grieved his sisters, and robbed the world of the good he could have done. Christ restores to him the human good that is lacking: life itself.
    • This is an example of how God draws good out of evil, thereby giving glory to Himself by benefiting man.
  • Jesus’ love was so palpable that everyone who experienced it saw it as unique to himself or herself. This is why Mary can send word, “Master, the one you love is ill.”
  • Why did Jesus wait to go to Bethany? Perhaps for two reasons. One was that he had people to serve right in front of him where he was. Another was he wanted there to be no doubt that Lazarus was really dead.
  • Jesus did not cold-bloodedly “use” Lazarus’ death to teach a lesson. He felt the mourning of the sisters deeply and was angered by the spectacle of death: “he became perturbed and deeply troubled.” He was himself overcome in grief: “Jesus wept.”

Doctrine: Death and hope in our own resurrection

  • Even thought all living things on earth die, and even though we will all die, death is not natural to human beings. “As a consequence of original sin, man must suffer ‘bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned’” (GS18) (CCC 1018).
  • “By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. Just as Christ is risen and lives for ever, so all of us will rise at the last day.” (CCC 1016)
    • In the raising of Lazarus, Christ reunited this poor man’s body and soul and regenerated whatever corruption his natural body had suffered. Lazarus was restored to corruptible life, the natural life we live now.
  • “‘We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess’ (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). [In death,] we sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but [Christ] raises up an incorruptible body, a ‘spiritual body’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44). (CCC 1017)
    • “Jesus links faith in the resurrection to his own person: ‘I am the Resurrection and the life.’ It is Jesus himself who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in him . . .. Already now in this present life he gives a sign and pledge of this by restoring some of the dead to life, announcing thereby his own Resurrection, though it was to be of another order.” (CCC 994)
      • Lazarus was restored to natural life but he would have to die again. His “natural” resurrection is a sign of the Resurrection of another order, the order of being incapable of dying again. Christ’s Resurrection is of this other order. We are promised to share in this new order through Jesus Christ.

Practical application: A proper awareness of death

  • We are on our earthly pilgrimage. This is our “time of grace and mercy” in which we work out our “earthly life in keeping with the divine plan . . . and decide [our] ultimate destiny” (CCC 1013). With Gods’ helping and healing graces, our work is to do good and avoid evil. Our work is to love God and neighbor properly. We prepare for heaven by doing good. We prepare for hell by sinning.
  • “The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death, the end of this pilgrimage. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: ‘From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord’; [she encourages us] to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us ‘at the hour of our death’ in the Hail Mary; and [she encourages us] to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.’” (CCC 1014)
  • As Thomas a Kempis wrote:

Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience …. Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren’t fit to face death today, it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow …. (The Imitation of Christ, 1, 23, 1) (CCC 1014)

  • And as St. Francis put it:

Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe on those who will die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they who will be found
in your most holy will,
for the second death will not harm them. (Canticle of the Creatures) (CCC 1014)

The Homiletic Directory recommends the following Catechism points and themes for the Fifth Sunday of Lent:

  • CCC 992-996: the progressive revelation of resurrection
  • CCC 549, 640, 646: raisings a messianic sign prefiguring Christ’s Resurrection
  • CCC 2603-2604: the prayer of Jesus before the raising of Lazarus
  • CCC 1002-1004: our present experience of resurrection
  • CCC 1402-1405, 1524: the Eucharist and the Resurrection
  • CCC 989-990: the resurrection of the body






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