Lectionary Readings: Ez 37:12-14 / Ps 130 / Rom 8:8-11 / Jn 1:.3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45
With the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we walk into one of the more critical points of Lent before entering Holy Week. Prior to the reforms of the Liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, this Sunday was known as the First Passion Sunday, and next week, Palm Sunday, would be known as the Second Passion Sunday. The period of Lent starting this Sunday was also traditionally known as Passiontide. It is traditional for Sacred Art to be covered in purple veils during this period. Crosses would be unveiled at the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the other art are unveiled at the Easter Vigil.
As the Season of Lent draws nearer to a close and therefore, drawing near to the Paschal light of Easter, we are asked to focus ourselves on the Paschal Mysteries. This is very evident of the signs embedded in the Liturgy of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, from the Passiontide veils to the Lectionary readings today. All the readings can all be summed up in the word “resurrection”.
Every week in the Profession of the Faith, either in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed or during Easter with the Renewal of Baptismal Promises, we profess, “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Martha in today’s Gospel does a profession of that fact as Jesus asks her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25) and Martha replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (11:26) As Catholics, we believe that this earthly death is not the end, but rather, we believe that after this earthly life, those who believe in Christ, the Resurrected One, will one day rise with him on the last day.
The readings provide such optimistic images of the resurrection. In Ezekiel, we are provided with three verses from chapter 37… but I think in order to fully understand the passages read today, we must read Ezekiel 37:1-14, commonly known as The Vision of the Dry Bones in which in a vision, the prophet Ezekiel stands in a valley of dry bones. That, according to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, in the Ezekiel article by Lawrence Boadt, C.S.P. which states that, “The bones, bleached, scattered on the ground and very, very dry (v 2), represent the total destruction if Israel by an attacking army, viz., Babylon.” (325) However, at a point in time where to human beings, all is lost and all that is left is the valley of bones, a valley of death, God, the all powerful, gives them life. The vision of the dry bones “summarizes Ezekiel’s mission to the exiles” He preaches the word of God to bring new life to a dead Israel”. (325) The three verses that are read today concludes the story of the vision of the dry bones, and in a sense, is God’s commentary or rather, a promise of the resurrection to those who believe in the Word of God and thus embracing the ‘Spirit’.
God promises life to those who are open to accept and live by the Word of God, and therefore, willing to make God at the centre of their lives. We have total free choice to reject or accept God to be the centre of our lives. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans today, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Rom 8:9) Are we too concerned about the flesh? Too hooked up about earthly things and fail to let the Spirit of Christ dwell in us? To be in the Spirit of Christ is to go back to the fundamentals of Lent, which we were reminded on Ash Wednesday, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” (Mk 1:15) embracing, abiding by the Word of God and getting rid of our childish sinful ways. That is how we are able to truly believe in the Gospel of Life – the Good News of the Resurrection. By abiding by the Word of God, we live in the Spirit of Christ, and therefore show that we truly believe in the resurrection that we profess every week.
With that said, in the midst of this COVID-19, where death literally threatens the world day by day, have we sensed a change in the way that we live our lives? I hope so. As we are isolated in our homes, there are still many great things happening out there: Priests live-streaming and privately celebrating Mass, neighbours checking upon elderly neighbours, text messages asking to see how friends are doing, virtual check-ins… That comes to show that the Church, even without the external presence in churches, the Church is still alive through not only prayer, but through external work. With that, we are living in the Spirit of Christ, and truly living the spirit of an “Easter People.” (St. Augustine) Here, I wish to quote St. John Paul II:
We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery – the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”. We are not looking for a shallow joy but rather a joy that comes from faith, that grows through unselfish love, that respects the “fundamental duty of love of neighbour, without which it would be unbecoming to speak of Joy”. We realize that joy is demanding; it demands unselfishness; it demands a readiness to say with Mary: “Be it done unto me according to thy word”.St. John Paul II, Angelus – Nov. 30, 1986 in Adelaide, Australia
While these dark times may be going on at least for a couple of more week, maybe a month or months meaning we may not be able to celebrate Holy Week and Easter in the usual manner with grand Liturgies and celebrations, but I hope this focus us more on what it means to be people who believe in the resurrection. I repeat St. John Paul’s words, “We are not looking for a shallow joy but rather a joy that comes from faith, that grows through unselfish love, that respects the “fundamental duty of love of neighbour, without which it would be unbecoming to speak of Joy”.
With that, I hope our Easter celebrations this year will bear a different, optimistic view in light of today’s Lectionary readings – an Easter where we will truly understand what it means to experience Easter joy.
Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary: Ed. by Raymond E. Brown. London: Chapman, 1990. Print.
John Paul II “Angelus, 30 November 1986: John Paul II.” Angelus, 30 November 1986 , Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 30 Nov. 1986, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/angelus/1986/documents/hf_jp-ii_ang_19861130.html.