Mortal Death and Eternal Life

Homily Fifth Sunday Lent 2023

The theme of the readings today is the power of God over life and death. Ezekiel, speaking for the Lord, says, “Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!” In the Gospel story, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb.

Jesus is the author of life and death. Not us. If we live for this world, when we die we are truly dead. But God made us for life with him forever. At the dawn of creation he breathed into us our eternal souls. In the fullness of time, he sent his son, his only begotten, to save us from eternal death and open for us the door to eternal life. If we live not for this world but for his kingdom, then when we die we are not eternally dead but heading home to be with our loving father.

Lazarus, who is four days dead – so dead that his body is already decomposing and is going to stink – and that dead body is raised to life. Our bodies are going to be so dead they are going to have decomposed all the way back to dust. That’s how we started Lent on Ash Wednesday:  “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” Our bodies are going to be so dead that we are going to be dust, and yet we will be raised to eternal life with glorified bodies.

Catholics are known to be pro-life not just because we love babies and old folks, but because we know who is truly the author of life and the marker of death. To God alone – not to us – to God alone is reserved the decision on when to create life and when to end life. That’s why we pray for an end to abnormal terminations of life, either in unborn babies or older people who are put to death before their time. The dignity of the human person demands that we let God call us to life and call us home when he chooses.

In this story, we feel the pain of the loss of the presence of Lazarus, and there is great joy when Jesus brings him back to life. The loss of God’s presence is sin and death, and the eternal loss of that presence is Hell. The return of God’s presence is sanctifying grace, and the eternal presence of God is Heaven. Jesus died and rose because he loves us; he desired to lose not one of his sheep. In his love for us, he offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross. In the prayer of the Mass, we recall that sacrifice.

The words of the prayer of consecration help us see that this sacrifice on the Cross was unlike any other sacrifice ever offered to God. The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross paid the price for all the sins ever committed by all of humanity throughout all time. In the eucharistic prayer, Father will recall this sacrificial victim: a pure victim, a holy victim, an unblemished victim. Jesus was the unblemished lamb whose blood vanquished all sin, and by that even death itself. God the Father offered his son, his only begotten, to save us from eternal death because he loves us that much. Jesus was obedient to his heavenly Father, even to death on the Cross, because he loves us that much. 

In the prayer of consecration we are putting ourselves back in communion with that holy sacrifice on Good Friday where God offered himself, in his only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should have life. And we are promised by our faith in Christ, that when we die even as Lazarus died, we will be raised to a new life, a better life, an eternal and glorified life. We who die in Christ are guaranteed to be raised in Christ.

The story of Lazarus is there to show us that Jesus has the power over life and death. By his command, by his word, we can be healed even from death. When he says something, it happens. When he says, “Lazarus, come out,” the dead man walks from the grave after four days inside. That same power of the word of Christ is shown to us at the Mass every time the priest prays the prayer of consecration. By the power of the word of Jesus Christ, Lazarus who was dead is no longer dead. By the power of the priest praying in the person of Christ, what was bread is no longer bread.

The holy sacrifice on the Cross, the pure sacrifice is the offering to the Father that conquers death. We are two weeks from Easter, when we will spend three days deeply immersed in the events around that sacrifice. Amid the pain and the suffering of Good Friday, let us understand the words of St. Paul:

“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.”

By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can be assured of eternal life.

In the quiet stillness of Holy Saturday before the great celebration of the Resurrection on Easter, let us be reminded of the words of St. John in his first letter, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins” (I Jn 4:10) Everything that Jesus did in coming as an infant at Christmas and dying as a sacrificial offering on the Cross was done because our Heavenly Father loves us so much. Let us also go to die with him, as the Doubting Thomas said today, but let us go full of joy knowing that his death ends death and offers to us eternal life.

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