Fifth Sunday of Lent:
Saint John Baptist de la Salle March 26, 2023
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45
The very first letter I received from the Diocese of Charlotte came from Msgr. Richard Allen, who was the pastor of Saint Leo Parish in Winston-Salem and the Vocation Director. The letter began by saying that he was looking out his window and saw the signs of spring. What do you see when you look out the window? That depends on the window, does it not? In like measure, what we know, and how we know what we know, depends upon what we believe we see. In other words, if what we believe is incorrect, then what we see explains what we do not yet know and perhaps never will.
Whatever else one might say about resurrection from the dead, most of us approach the question from a window that is all too narrow. For example, resurrection from the dead does not seem to be scientific. However, if we think that way, we will eliminate much of what will someday be scientific. A hundred years ago, the World Wide Web did not sound scientific. The real problem is that we have no experience of resurrection, and lacking that, we cannot help but presume that it will not happen. Why? Because it has not happened, at least not for us. Yet ask any high school student, and they will tell you that just because something has not yet happened does not mean that it will not happen.
Fr. Allen often compared resurrection to the coming of spring as he looked out his window. Of course, spring is nothing new for us. We expect it yearly. But what if spring happened only once in all eternity? If spring were always preordained and expected by the Creator, to the rest of us, it would be as incomprehensible as it would be unexpected. But what if Fr. Allen had never learned to look from his window? What if he had no expectation of spring? What if nature were fashioned in such a way that what we call spring happened only once in human history?
And if spring happened only once in human history, would not many of us dismiss the very notion as nothing more than a delusion?
The date for the celebration of Easter was not fixed by its occurrence with the return of spring, as many of the uninformed like to suggest. The death of Jesus and his resurrection are linked to Israel's calendar of Passover, because that is indeed when they occurred. So, if someone did think that it would be fitting to link Easter and Spring, it had to be the Lord of history himself. Looking again out our window, and in the window of our mind, we know that science certainly tells us to expect spring. Yet science can't and never will be able to offer any explanation as to why spring happens. Science has no window from which to ask why nature even exists or why it even exists as it does.
Because of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth, our Church says that resurrection is like the spring that takes place every year. That's an ok answer if we realize that resurrection has happened only once. If science were still to be useful after we have risen from the dead, it might well provide an explanation. Until then, do not expect science to tell you all the future holds. Does it matter, upon this earth, what the world finds probable? And how long is long when you know that spring will come?
Today's Gospel takes a healing story to highlight not the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but the death and resurrection of Jesus himself. Last week's Gospel tells us that a man born blind was healed, "so that the works of God might be made visible." Today, Jesus tells us, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you will see the glory of God." However, Jesus will only reveal the "glory of God" when he is "lifted up" on the cross. The more one reads the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the more one can understand Jesus' own death and resurrection. However, it also points to the greater mystery of Jesus' humanity and death, the saving victory that we will celebrate in the coming weeks.