“Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and

Fr. Luke Millette
5th Sunday of Lent
March 22
“Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you
rise from them… I will put my spirit in you that you may live… thus you shall know
that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it says the Lord.”
In our first reading, God gives an almost unbelievable promise, saying that
one day we shall rise from our graves. Our Gospel points to the fulfillment of this
promise with the raising of Lazarus, and yet at the same time there is something odd
about our Gospel. If you remember, it says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister
and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he remained for two days in the
place where he was.” This doesn't seem to make sense. Jesus should have rushed off
to heal Lazarus, and instead He waited two days before leaving. It is a fair question
to ask why He waited!
The Jews believed that the soul left the body after three days, so Jesus made
sure to arrive after Lazarus had already been dead for four days so that it was clear
Lazarus was truly dead and Jesus had truly brought him back to life. This reveals the
paradox at the heart of today's message. Jesus wants us to live, but, for this to happen,
He must first let us die. Jesus wants to raise us from our graves, but He must first let
us enter into them.
None of us want to die, but we all must die someday... We must die due to the
sin we have inherited from Adam... due to the sins that we have committed in our
own lives. As I pondered this, I asked myself why Jesus couldn’t have just wiped
out death when He came. Why didn’t He just smack His hands together and say,
“Ok, from here on out, no more dying!” He couldn’t do this because dying is a result
of our free will and to take away dying He would have had to take away our free
will. It is our choice to sin and therefore our death is our own fault, even if it doesn't
always seem that way. Jesus couldn't eliminate death, so instead He gave us another
choice... a choice about whether we want to live after we die... a choice about
Fr. Luke Millette
5th Sunday of Lent
March 22
whether we want to rise from our graves. It is only when we embrace our deaths in
faith that we can rise from the grave into new life.
I want to focus us on the three types of death we will all experience in our
lives: spiritual death, emotional death, and physical death. Just as Christ passed
through the waters of the Jordan, we must all die spiritually by passing through the
waters of baptism so that we can be reborn into new life as members of the Body of
Christ. As Jesus said in today's Gospel, “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.” As He once asked Martha and Mary, He now asks us, “Do you
believe this?” This belief is essential because it is through our belief in Christ that
“the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead" will dwell in us so that we can
be raised from death to everlasting life. Those of us who have already been baptized
must constantly renew that commitment. Others of us, like our catechumens, are
being invited to baptism so that they can die to this world and live for Christ.
Most probably, everyone here will also experience at some point in their lives
an emotional death. This death goes by many different names. Sometimes it is called
a midlife crisis. Sometimes it is called hitting rock bottom. Perhaps it is a failed
relationship or the death of a loved one or an addiction or a major mistake that will
shape the rest of our lives. No matter what it is called, many of us know what it is
like to have our lives collapse around us, to enter into that dark emotional depression
from which we think we will never escape. We find ourselves crying out, shouting
to God, “Where are you? Why do you delay? Why aren’t you coming to save me
before I am buried in my tomb and the darkness claims me?”
In Jerusalem, the church of St Peter in Gallicantu covers the ancient cistern
where Jesus was imprisoned the night before His death. If you manage to find the
light switch and turn it off, you can sit at the bottom of that deep dark well, reflecting
Fr. Luke Millette
5th Sunday of Lent
March 22
on the fact that Jesus did everything He could to meet each and everyone of us where
we are. Not only did He brave the stench of Lazarus' tomb, but He also went into the
deepest pit He could find. No matter where we are, no matter how dark it might be...
no matter how strong the stench might be... no matter how far we have wandered
from God's love, Jesus already went there. He braved every pit and prison and tomb
to let us know that there is light in the darkness, that every chain can be shattered,
that everything which binds us can be loosed. Jesus has to let us die emotionally so
that we can finally be freed from every chain that binds us and learn to cling to Him
And unfortunately, we must all experience physical death. At some point in
our lives, we will die. Yet, even here our Lord has gone before us. He allowed
Himself to die so that in His Resurrection we have a path to follow. If we die in faith,
clinging to our God's promise that He will raise us from our graves, then we have
nothing to fear from death. Yes, He will let us die, but only so that He can raise us
from our graves. If we approach these many types of death in our lives with faith,
they will not break us but they will instead free us to love God more perfectly. Just
as Lazarus laid dead in his tomb and came forth at the sound of His Lord’s voice,
one day when we lie dead in our own graves, we too will hear our Lord’s voice
calling to us, telling us to come out so that we might be untied and set free.
“Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you
rise from them… I will put my spirit in you that you may live… thus you shall know
that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it says the Lord.”