“I will open your graves and have you rise from them!”
That sounds like an offer we cannot or at least should not refuse! The Jews heard that word during a difficult time for them. They were exiled, far from their Land of Israel, and yet here was this prophet giving them this word of consolation and hope. These words of Ezekiel immediately follow the great prophecy about the restoration of the dry bones—they’re being raised to life! The key to that resurrection is the gift of the Spirit. Even after the bones have come together and they are covered with flesh and sinews, they stay dead until the final touch; the Spirit comes and restores them to life. This first reading for the 5th Sunday is a reminder to each of us that the gift of life is a gift from the Holy Spirit, and a not very subtle reminder that if we are going to stay alive, we must continue to experience that life-giving and refreshing gift of the Spirit in our lives.
Why does He do this for us, i.e. offer us His Holy Spirit and fill us with life? The answer is found in the responsorial Psalm: “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” He loves us beyond words and constantly offers to us what we need to walk in that fullness of redemption. His love and mercy is even more concretely demonstrated in the Gospel itself, as we see His gift of life lavished on Lazarus, whom He raises from the dead. He does this as an act of love for Martha, Mary, and of course, Lazarus, as well as to provide a powerful sign for all that He is the Resurrection and the Life!
While it might seem somewhat premature to be having all these references to resurrection while we are still in Lent, it is always good to have this reminder of what the pivotal event not only of this season but of our whole Church year is: Jesus Christ Risen from the dead! But the Lord Jesus is not the object of these resurrection stories, His people are. This enables us to be more deeply in touch with the reality that the focus of His work is that it is done for us, out of love for us. We are profoundly loved by a Savior Who loves to save and in His great love for us He shares with us that very Spirit that raised Him from the dead, so that we too can experience new life in Him.
The big question is, though, are we alive or are we dead? Obviously, in the physical sense, we are all alive, but what is the spiritual reality? How alive are we in Him? How much do we lean on the power of His Holy Spirit to give us life and to keep us alive?
Several years ago, when I first became pastor of Christ the King, and shortly after became the interim principal at Fr. Gabriel Richard High School, I had a crazy, busy time. Significant changes were happening in both the parish and the high school and it was a constant mad dash just to keep up. After running at this insane pace for some time, I had an opportunity to get away and visit a very Spirit-filled renewal center, where I was blessed to receive a major blast of the Holy Spirit. I remember remarking to someone at the time that you have no idea how much you are running on empty until you get filled up again!
That experience of getting re-filled was amazing and wonderful. The irony is that, if you’d have asked me beforehand if I had been running on empty, I probably would have said, “No, things are just fine.” Lent is a wonderful opportunity for us to take stock of where we are spiritually. The danger is that, unless we do that on some kind of regular basis, we can find ourselves running on empty and not even knowing it! But if we take advantage of the grace of this Holy Season and plead with the Lord Jesus to show us more concretely the actual condition of our souls, He might just show us that we are really doing a lot on our own power and are perilously close to empty ourselves. It is worth considering, because if we are out of gas, but don’t even know it, it is hard to ask for help. But if the King of Kings, in His great love and mercy, shows us that it’s true, then we know where to go for the help we need: to the Savior Who loves to save and delights to fill us with His Holy Spirit! — Fr. Ed