for the fifth Sunday of Lent
Ez 37:12-14 - Rm 8:8...11 - Jn 11:1...45
by Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
The open tomb
Ez 37:12, «Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. 13, And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14, And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.»
On Easter morning, those who went to the tomb of Jesus, that is to say the holy women and the apostles, found the tomb open, and empty. They all asked themselves what this rather unusual reality could mean. One of them, John, attentive to the movements of the Holy Spirit in his soul, did not need much time to understand this sign from God: "He saw and believed." (Jn 20:8) Apart from the Virgin Mary, who became the Spouse of the Holy Spirit at the Incarnation of the Son of God, no one had ever given God such a firm and unshakable faith in Jesus, the Messiah: on Easter morning, John saw the open tomb, and he believed!
The open tomb is the sign of a past event: when we see this sign, we must say to ourselves that something important happened, we must reflect on this fact we do not understand. For our memory is then alert, and our spirit is more receptive to the movements of the Holy Spirit, he who, according to the words of Jesus, is destined to act upon our memory by reminding us of everything Jesus said to his apostles (cf. Jn 14:26). The sign of the open tomb, being the sign of the victory of Life over death, therefore alludes to the Holy Spirit, the divine Person who, in the Most Holy Trinity, is "the Lord" and "the giver of life" (Credo)!
In today's first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel reports the words that the Lord addresses to him while the Hebrews were in exile in Babylon. The Prophet announces in the name of the Lord that the tombs will open. This announcement refers to a future time: at some point in time, whether sooner or later, the Lord will open the tombs! For those who will be alive at that time, this will be a sign that the Lord Jesus, already risen, is there!
Will we still have time to reflect on this event? I do not think so. For if Jesus is there, it means that the end time will have arrived, and thus that there is no more time... Moreover, if Ezekiel prophesied, why would he have spoken in vain? Like Saint John on Easter morning, let us believe now in the sign that Ezekiel gives us today! Then, at the moment fixed by God, the Holy Spirit will give us his Life: "I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land." (Ez 37:14)
Rm 8:8, Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9, But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 11, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.
If we believe in the Prophecy of Ezekiel, we do so in hope of eternal Life, as we await the Lord who comes. Now, hope in eternal Life places in our soul a beginning or a bud of this promised eternity. Already, by the grace of God who saves us in his Son Jesus, we live of the eternal Life of God, not in both our soul and our body, as it will be after the Resurrection of bodies, but rather only in our soul, where the Spirit of God dwells: "You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you." (Rom 8:9) Later, when the tombs will be opened, the Spirit, who already lives in our soul, will also give life to our body in order for us to resurrect like Christ did: "He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you." (Rom 8:11)
Jn 11:3, The sisters [Martha and Mary] sent to him, saying, «Lord, he whom you love is ill.» 4, But when Jesus heard it he said, «This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.» 5, Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6, So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7, Then after this he said to the disciples, «Let us go into Judea again.» 17, Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 20, When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. 21, Martha said to Jesus, «Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22, And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.» 23, Jesus said to her, «Your brother will rise again.» 24, Martha said to him, «I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.» 25, Jesus said to her, «I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?» 27, She said to him, «Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.» 34, He said, «Where have you laid him?» They said to him, «Lord, come and see.» 35, Jesus wept. 36, So the Jews said, «See how he loved him!» 37, But some of them said, «Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?» 38, Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 39, Jesus said, «Take away the stone.» Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, «Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.» 40, Jesus said to her, «Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?» 41, So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, «Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42, I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.» 43, When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, «Lazarus, come out.» 44, The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, «Unbind him, and let him go." 45, Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.
By opening the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus definitively signs his own death sentence: "From that day on they took counsel how to put him to death." (Jn 11:53) The opening of a tomb does indeed signify the proclamation of the end of a life: in this case, that of Jesus; in the previous one, that of the world! But Jesus is not afraid: he is courageous, and he makes use of this situation to provoke a beautiful profession of faith and of hope in eternal life from those present. Thus Martha cries out: "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world." (Jn 11:27)
These days, a person's death often provokes different reactions, sometimes even contradictory ones. For instance, a journalist on the radio or television would simply say that someone has left us. The word death has been banned from use. Sometimes the word deceased will be used. This last word is used more often, and too often, in the case of a dead animal! Such and such has left us. So the word death is ignored, or almost scoffed at. I am reminded of a film in which a small six-year-old boy, Denis, exclaims: "It's crazy how many people have left us!"
In 1972, Michel Polnareff did not do any better when he sang, based on the words of Jean Loup Dabadie, a mendacious song in which he cries: "We will all go to paradise!" We do pray, of course, for everyone to go to Paradise. But, alas, not everyone goes there... We pray and hope that such and such a person has gone to join the Father in his House. But concerning this we have no certainty. No, we will not all go to paradise: this is what we know for certain!
Lazarus died and Jesus opened his tomb a first time. Lazarus died a second time. At the end of the world, Jesus will open his tomb a second time... May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and her Husband Saint Joseph obtain for us the grace of a good death, in the love of God and men!