Grace to you!
The image of the grave reminds us of end of life, pain and sorrow. In the grave we find the worst of human limitations. In the grave, hope seems lost, gone by the wind.
Scripture speaks of the grave as it speaks of the netherworld, and many biblical translations use “the grave” as synonym for Sheol, where God is hardly praised. “Those in the grave (Sheol) cannot praise you” (Is 38:18; see also Ps 115:17).
What the grave represents is first, death and the hopelessness, which often follows death. It also represents the dark pitiable aspect of human brokenness. Those limitations, should I say frustrations, which weigh heavy on us, pushing us down below the ladder of full self realization and actualization. The grave is equally a symbol of sin, as sin—alluding to the consequences of Original Sin—breeds corruption. The grave is the home of corruption. Thus, the grave without hope, resurrection would have been the worst of creaturely destiny.
Imagine a situation when the grave is upended because victory over the grave is assured. Isn’t such a victory the hope of humanity? To do so is to give a final blow to death and it’s terrifying posture. Having been swallowed up in victory, then we can dare the grave and look what it represents in the face saying: “Death where is your victory. Death where is your sting” (1 Cor 15:55).
In the prophesy of Ezekiel 37:12, God declares a promise for his people. “I will raise you from your graves my people…”
God’s word through Isaiah to open the grave for God’s people was no longer about what was written in texts over eight hundred years before Christ. Christ came to fulfill in entirety what the prophecy envisaged—ushering in a new perspective about human destiny.
To demonstrate resurrection and that new life is in him as the Messiah, Christ the Lord used the occasion of the “grave-event” at the home of Martha to do so, as well as to dispel the doubts of unbelief.
“Role the Stone” was Jesus’ first command to those standing by the grave of Lazarus. “Lazarus arise” was his second command.
The first command was inviting the people to hold on to God’s Word and confront the grave head-on and not be terrified by it’s crippling and terrifying posture. It was also to express the communal, ecclesial nature of the work of faith, a work where many in the community are invited to join hands to restore hope.
The stone could be seen as the obstacles, challenges, more fittingly varied occasions of sin which cover us, making us victims of the grave dirge, boxed in the lowest part of our brokenness and weaknesses. The stone must first be removed. Those occasions must first be tackled directly in faith adhering to God’s word, so we can see the way out of the grave.
Once the stone is rolled, Jesus speaks to Lazarus who has been dead and buried for four days. For the Jewish culture at the time of Jesus, death after three days means the dead has reached a place of no return. Only God can bring such a dead person back to life. Hence, both Mary and Martha, and the Jews who saw Jesus weep, noted how it could have been possible for Jesus to stop Lazarus from dying. But now he is dead. Nothing could be done, they had presumed (see Jn 11:21, 32, 37).
Did Jesus wait the first day, the second day, the third and then the fourth to prove a point about his divinity? I do not know. What I do know is by the fourth day, decomposition must have started to take place, in some great measures.
What does Jesus do? Command life to the dead. Command healing to dead and decaying bodies. Command that Lazarus rise.
To the amazement of onlookers, Lazarus rose. Only God, the Living God can do this. Humans can’t. Once again, the divinity of Jesus is proven.
What lesson do we learn from this story? The resurrection of the dead into glory is, hereby, demonstrated by the Lord Jesus in whom and through whom, life and resurrection are guaranteed. Second, no matter how hopeless our situation may be, if Jesus is welcome to lead us, there is hope. Third, with God, the grave of human brokenness has been restored in and through Christ.
Hence, are there challenges (moral and spiritual situations), sinful conditions or occasions we find ourselves in and we feel like the stone of hopelessness is rolled over us? May we turn to Jesus, especially at the Eucharist, so he can speak to our situation. We shall rise!
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[5th Sunday of Lent A: Ez 37:12-14, Rom 8:8-11; Jn11:1-45]
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.