Christ reminds us who our God is, and what he’s capable of.
I’ve always imagined the resurrection of the dead would be something like the Beast’s transformation into a handsome prince at the end of Walt Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast. Rays of light will shoot forth, swirling matter will be rearranged, orchestras will thunder in grand crescendo and the lifeless bodies of the dead will be given new life.
As our Lenten journey approaches the Sunday of the Resurrection, the great feast of Easter, the Prophet Ezekiel declares again the promise of God: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel” (Ez. 37:12). In the face of death, believers will find life.
At a time when our world is being attacked by the spectre of disease and suffering, the Church proclaims anew God’s promise of resurrection and life. As is so often the case, the liturgy manages to speak precisely the words we need to hear.
As is so often the case, the liturgy manages to speak precisely the words we need to hear.
First, the prophet reminds us that God is our God. God’s covenant is unbroken. We are his people, He is our God. God does not abandon Israel. His chosen nation remains known by Him as, “my people.” Death does not reign over this nation; God is King.
Ezekiel was a prophet who lived in exile. Israel had been taken into captivity. Living in Babylon, the temptation to doubt God’s fidelity was very great. Babylon had become a tomb for Israel. In the face of this disaster, the prophet declares the faithful and life-giving work of Israel’s God.
Christ makes the same claim. By identifying himself as “I am,” Jesus is saying to us all in this Sunday’s Gospel passage, “I am the God of your Fathers.” The God of our Fathers is the God of life and faithfulness.
Elsewhere, in a debate with the Sadducees (those who did not believe in the Resurrection), Jesus says, “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:37-38). Thus, Jesus makes a claim on the power to give life, which belongs to God.
Jesus announces to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The resurrection is not only a historical event (Christ’s own resurrection was very real) but Christ teaches he has in his own person the power of the resurrection. Like the other “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel (I am the Bread of Life, I am the Vine) Jesus reveals something intimate about his own self by telling Martha that he is the resurrection.
Not only does God remind us of who he is and who we are, but he also reminds us of what he will do.
The prophet Ezekiel reminds Israel that God will bring them back to their own land. The Babylonian captivity and dispersion of Israel is a tomb. Israel’s God has promised to break open that tomb, and to lead them back to their own land.
As Israel was led out of the tomb of Babylon and Lazarus climbed forth from his tomb, God will call us out of our own prisons of sin and give us life. St. Augustine writes, “He groaned, He wept, He cried with a loud voice. With what difficulty does one rise who lies crushed under the heavy burden of a habit of sinning! And yet he does rise: he is quickened by hidden grace within; and after that loud voice he rises.” Strengthened by the grace of the One who is the Resurrection and the Life, we can cast off whatever shackles bind us.
Israel hears the voice of God spoken through the prophet. Lazarus hears the voice of the resurrection calling him to life. We too will hear our God speaking to our hearts reminding us of his promises and nourishing us.
If our quarantine feels very much like an entombment, we must recall the promise of God, that he will draw us out from the tomb!
Our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. His voice will call us forth, roll away any stones, leading us from death into life.