Sunday homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent Year B
Theme: Life and death
By: Fr. Jude Chijioke
Homily for Sunday March 21 2021
Readings: Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Romans 8,8-11; John 11: 1-45
“Thus, says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them. Then you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and have you rise from them. I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” (Ez 37).
“Although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 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, through his spirit dwelling in you” (Rom 8).
“Jesus said to Martha: Your brother will rise again. Martha replied: I know that he will rise again on the last day. Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live whoever lives and believes in me will never die … And having said this, he cried out in a loud voice: Lazarus, come out! The dead man came out, with his feet and hands wrapped in bandages and his face covered with a cloth.” (Jn 11).
We are faced today with the themes of life and death in our three great readings of this Sunday. Death can appear in the history of humanity and in that of every man, with two faces, that of the angel or that of the monster. It can be peace or nightmare; it can take on a calm face or a struggle. It is certain – as the French bishop Bossuet said in one of his sermons in 1666 – that “mortals are concerned with burying the thought of death with the same care with which they bury the dead”. Yet it presents itself clearly with his smile or with his grin and man has always been terrified or opened to hope. In the famous and impressive Dialogue of a suicide with his soul, an Egyptian text from 2200 BC, the protagonist exclaims: “Death stands before me today as liberation for the prisoner, like the perfume of myrrh, like an evening breeze while three we rest under a sail along the river.”
The man of the Bible is also placed in front of death, but this encounter is marked by the appearance of the greatest antagonist, life. In the context of the short passage that constitutes today’s first reading, the prophet Ezekiel unfolds but a surreal and frightening vision, the creator spirit of God breaks in and flesh, that is life, is woven into the dry and dead bones. Eventually humanity stands up, ready for a new existence. It is known, however, that the resurrection painted by this prophet is rather a parable intended to illustrate the return-resurrection of Israel from the “tomb” of the exile of Babylon. And therefore, a moral resurrection, a rebirth of courage and hope.
Paul in his theological masterpiece, the letter to the Romans, presents us with another death and another life, that of sin and grace. It is the great baptismal resurrection that breaks our prison: the sinful fragility is replaced by the liberating eternity; the victory of peace, the old man the new creation.
Following this, we come to the apex of our liturgy, that extraordinary Johannine scene of Bethany, the “village of Lazarus”, as it is still called today. The dialogue between Jesus and Martha, the sister of the dead friend, despite the hesitations of those who do not dare to hope for the impossible, progressively opens up to that intuition of faith that we too profess in the Creed every Sunday: on the third day He rose from the dead. Christ risen from the dead is the root of our resurrection. Death is our truest identity card. But death was passed through by the Son of God who, like us, died.
Therefore, death is different now, it has been transformed. It is no longer a forbidden city or a landing place in the sea of nothingness and silence. It has been open to infinity and eternity, thanks to the One who made it possible in Christ Jesus. Let us at this lent experience the transforming presence of the One who suffered and died for us and encourage one another especially those preparing for baptism in our church this Easter using the petition of the Psalmist (Ps 16: 10-11) “For you will not abandon my soul to the dead; nor let your beloved know decay. You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right-hand happiness forever.”
-Fr. Jude Chijioke