Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A)
Scripture Readings*: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45; Psalm 130
In a strange vision of a valley of dried bones, Ezekiel identifies that these bones represent Israel. Having been dry and “dead” for a great period of time, Israel appeared to be without hope of seeing God’s covenant promises fulfilled.
In remarkable imagery, Ezekiel sees these “dead bones” come to life. This speaks of a physical restoration, which symbolizes national restoration, and a return to life, which symbolizes spiritual restoration.
Old Testament Law failed to produce righteousness. Paul reminds us that in Christ God condemned “sin in sinful man” and provided His Spirit, who enables believers to fully meet the Law’s requirements without “trying” (vv. 3–4).
As we focus on responding to God’s Spirit, rather than on trying to keep laws (vv. 5–8), we submit ourselves to be led by the Spirit who brought life to Christ’s dead body. In this process we discover He brings life to us who are spiritually dead (vv. 9–12). Our obligation is not to the Law, but to respond to the Spirit’s promptings (vv. 13–16).
Jesus was close to a little family living in Bethany, near Jerusalem. When Lazarus became sick, his sisters sent an urgent message to Jesus (11:1–3). Inexplicably, Jesus did not respond for several days (vv. 4–16). When He finally arrived, Lazarus was dead.
Jesus spoke to the sisters of Himself as “the Resurrection and the Life,” a reality they acknowledged. But even these firm believers limited Jesus’ power to “the last day” (vv. 17–27). Jesus, deeply moved at the pain of the two sisters, called for Lazarus’ tomb to be opened (vv. 28–40). When this was done He called to Lazarus—and the dead man, restored to life, came out of his grave (vv. 41–44).
Signs of Life
Editorialist and journalist Ambrose Bierce once said this: “Who never doubted, never half believed. Where doubt is, there truth is – it is her shadow.” He might well have been referring to today’s readings.
Can these bones live? We can hear the half-doubt, half-belief in Ezekiel’s response to God’s question. “O Lord God, you know,” he replies. God builds upon the belief, revealing signs of life to Ezekiel. Before long, Ezekiel has the faith to speak life over the graves of Israel.
Mary and Martha have the same mixture of faith and doubt. If only You had been here, Lazarus would have lived. They have faith in Jesus’ ability to heal; doubt in His ability to bring renewed life to what has died.
What about the graves in your life – the hopes cut down in their prime? Can these bones live? There’s a Savior approaching, speaking new life to what appears dead. Look beyond the shadows of doubt and see Jesus – see life.
Prayer for Fifth Sunday in Lent – Loving God, as my life and world continually change, help me to steadfastly see You, the source of true life and joy; through Jesus Christ, Amen.
*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A