Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Spirit of Life

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

EZ 37:12-14; PS 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; ROM 8:8-11; JN 11:1-45

Two weeks before Easter, this Sunday’s readings focus on resurrection. But if we listen carefully, they teach more deeply about the Holy Spirit.

Our short reading from Ezekiel is pretty straightforward: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” But there are a couple details that enrich it.

“I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” Resurrection is a thing of the Spirit. God’s life wells up within us.

“And I will settle you on my land.” The land symbolizes the fullness of life. The life God gives is not crimped or limited, but is a full enlivening of everything human. The gift of the Spirit makes us fully alive.

“Then you shall know that I am the Lord.” The life that comes from the Lord brings us back to the Lord. It is not merely that he does a miracle – “outside” of us – and that convinces us that he is God. It is that he enlivens us from within, so that we can see that our life, our land, the fullness of our humanity is all fulfilled in union with its Creator.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit: to bring us to the fullness of life, so that we may know God.

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Our short reading from Romans gives us another angle on the same thing. Again there is the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead” and who “will give life to your mortal bodies also.” The promise of our resurrection is directly tied to the resurrection of Jesus: it is his Spirit who enlivens us.

But this life is not just, not primarily, physical. Indeed, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh.” Now, when he says we “are not” in the flesh – and goes on to talk about the resurrection of the body – it’s clear he’s not saying our physical bodies are evil. Rather, the point is how we live. What we live for, to be sure – do we consider the land our ultimate good, or the God who gives it to us? But even deeper, what we live by.

“Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him . . . . The spirit is alive because of righteousness.” The Holy Spirit brings to life not only our bodies, but also our souls. He is the strength for righteousness, for living in union with God. The Holy Spirit, who is the love of God, is the strength to love as God loves. Without Christ’s Spirit dwelling within us, we are even more spiritually dead than our un-resurrected bodies will be physically dead.

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Again for the Gospel we have a long reading from John, this time the raising of Lazarus.

It is helpful to read John alongside our other texts, because John often prefers to speak of the power of Jesus rather than of the Holy Spirit as an “independent” person. This is important to properly understand the Holy Spirit. He is not an alternate path to God. The Trinity is not like three Gods, so that if you don’t want to deal with one, you can go to a different one. Rather the Spirit is, in the words of our reading from Romans, “the Spirit of Christ,” “the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus,” and the one who makes our spirit alive. The Holy Spirit is not an alternative to Jesus, he is Jesus working in us, pouring his own love into our hearts.

So here, rather than “the spirit who raises Jesus,” Jesus says, “I am the resurrection . . . whoever believes in me will never die.” The power of life flows out from Jesus. He is the giver of the Spirit. “If you had been here he would not have died.” This is why Thomas is not afraid to “go and die with him.”

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The story of Lazarus focuses on love. “Master, the one you love is ill,” they say, and when Jesus comes and weeps, they say, “See how he loved him.” Further, the little family of Bethany is a communion of love, in which Jesus intimately participates. Jesus “is asking for” Mary, and dialogues patiently with Martha.

But this love draws others to itself. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead because he loves him. But he lets Lazarus die so “that you may believe” – because, “if you believe you will see the glory of God.” The true love, the true power of the Spirit, draws us in to the inner life, the beauty, the goodness, the glory, of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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What would it mean to live as if the Spirit of resurrection brought life to our souls?

eric.m.johnston

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