March 15, 2024

Christ the Cornerstone

Draw closer to Christ, who offers life forever with him

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

The publication date for this column is Friday, March 15. We are just two weeks away from Good Friday, and as we celebrate the Fifth Sunday of Lent this weekend, we are reminded that God alone is the Lord of life and death.

The first reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in the Scrutiny Year A readings from the Book of Ezekiel proclaims:

O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord. (Ez 37:12-14)

The Lord has the power to open the graves of the dead and bring us back to life. He who has given us life promises to restore us to life after death by giving us God’s own Spirit at the time of our resurrection on the last day.

This is a fundamental truth of our Catholic faith—the resurrection of the body. It’s a great mystery which we cannot understand or explain in any detail. How or when it will happen is not at all clear. What we will look like, or be like, after we rise again is hinted at in the accounts of the risen Lord’s appearances to his disciples, but no one knows for sure.

God’s power over death was proven definitively in the resurrection of Jesus after his cruel passion and death on the cross. The risen Lord has assured us that we, too, will rise again. We believe this, but we are filled with doubts and uncertainty. Life after death seems hard to imagine, and we have many unresolved questions.

The Gospel reading (Jn 11:1-45) addresses our doubts about death. Jesus travels to Bethany because his friend Lazarus has died. Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, are both convinced that if Jesus had come sooner their brother, who was gravely ill, would have been healed. Now, they assume, it is too late. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been buried in the tomb for four days.

As St. John tells us:

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “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. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” (Jn 11:20-27)

Two things of great significance are happening here. First, Martha affirms the truth of the resurrection of the dead, and she acknowledges that she will see her brother again on the last day. But secondly, and far more importantly, she comes to believe that Jesus himself is the resurrection and the life. Everyone who lives and believes in him “will never die” (Jn 11:26).

This is a mystery far greater than the fact of the resurrection of the dead. It speaks to the heart of what life and death are all about. In Jesus, we find the source, ground and goal of all life. He is the Christ—the beginning, the “now” and the end point of all life. In him, we live and move and have our being. By affirming this truth, Martha shows that she accepts the deepest meaning of the Gospel’s teachings about Jesus.

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. He demonstrates that God alone has power over life and death. Coming just two weeks before our observance of his own passion and death, this Gospel reading is a powerful reminder that we are called to believe in much more than an abstract teaching about life beyond the grave. We are invited, and challenged, to encounter the person of Jesus Christ and to see in him “the resurrection and the life.”

May these weeks leading up to the Pascal Triduum draw us closer to Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life. May we recognize in him the truth about the meaning of life and death. †

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