This week the Church celebrates the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Until 1959, this Sunday was known as Passion Sunday because it marked the beginning of Passiontide, a period of intense preparation for the rites of Holy Week. This year we hear the Gospel reading of the raising of Lazarus which prefigures the resurrection of our Lord.
Indeed all of the readings remind us that the Lord intends to raise people up from death. Just as Jesus drew the woman at the well out of isolation and the man born blind out of sightlessness, so too, our Lord raises us up from death whether it is of the physical kind or the spiritual kind. Because of the Lord’s love and mercy, God wants to give us life in the Spirit.
Too often we think of death as the final act of our mortal existence. Yet God wants us to view death as the beginning of life eternal. In other words, death is a passage to another form of existence. It is a conduit through which all people must pass in order to experience the fullness of life itself.
Notice the nuance in the Gospel: Lazarus is raised from the dead—reanimated as it were—and given back his old life. He returns to the state from which he came. Eventually, Lazarus will die again in order to be resurrected in the Lord. Recall the reading of the account of the Transfiguration on the Second Sunday of Lent. In that account, the disciples see Jesus in his glorified, that is, post-resurrection, state. But this vision lasts but a moment. After the resurrection, they will experience Jesus in his fully glorified and resurrected state.
The raising of Lazarus prefigures the resurrection in that Jesus comes back to life. However, the difference is that Jesus is not merely reanimated as Lazarus was; he is fully alive in his heavenly body. This new state of existence is of what Ezekiel and Paul speak in today’s readings. The mortal body gives way to the spiritual and we become a new creation in the Lord.
As we more intensely prepare for the celebration of Holy Week, let each of us reflect on how much God wants us to live. Do we have the same desire? Do we want to be fully alive in the Lord so much that we do not fear death so much as to embrace it? St. Francis had a beautiful way of describing death: He called it “Sister Death.” Moreover, he welcomed death as his friend. May we have the same outlook and see our current state of existence as merely a passage to the next which will be glorious and vibrant.