Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fifth Sunday of Lent - Reading Reflections

In his book On Hope, Josef Pieper defines hope as “a steadfast turning toward the true fulfillment of man's nature, that is toward good, [which] has its source in the reality of grace in man and is directed toward supernatural happiness in God.” Hope is also, as Dr. Regis Martin teaches, a supernatural habit, a habit of soul, located in the will by which we confidently and trustfully expect and aspire to what God has promised. In hope, we lean towards God, holding fast to Jesus' promise that He will prepare a place for us, a place where we can be with Him and in Him for all eternity.

Hope runs through today's readings like a thread, tying them together and binding us firmly to Jesus as we reflect on and pray these beautiful texts.

The first reading (Ezekiel 37:12-14) begins with an amazing promise. God says through the prophet, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” This promise follows a vision in which Ezekiel sees a valley full of dried bones and, at God's command, prophesies to the bones until they once again come together, are filled with the breath, or Spirit, of God, and become living beings. God then promises to do the same for the Israelite people. He will rescue them from their graves, from the “death” and dryness and brokenness of their exile in Babylon, and bring them home to the land of Israel. Further, He will place His own Spirit within them so that they may live and know Him. This message must have given the people great hope, for they would have realized that God had not forgotten them in the midst of their oppression and fear. They now had a promise to cling to, a promise that encouraged them to turn towards God and confidently expect Him to fulfill His word, which He does, first in bringing them back to Israel at the end of the exile and then in bringing them into the new Israel, the Kingdom of God, through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The theme of hope continues in Psalm 130. The Psalmist confidently looks toward God, crying out from the depths of his sin and misery, begging God to hear his prayers. He acknowledges that no one who is sinful can stand before God, but he places his hope in God's mercy and forgiveness, in His kindness and redemption. He trusts in God and in His word, believing that God will come through for His people as surely as the sun will rise. Turning toward the goodness He sees in God, He confidently expects that God will be everything His has shown Himself to be and then some.

In the second reading (Romans 8:8-11), Paul speaks of the great hope that Christians must have when the Spirit of Christ dwells in them. They can and must hope that God will one day raise their mortal bodies as He raised Christ from the dead. They can and must cling to this promise, for if Christ is in them, “although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

Finally, the Gospel reading (John 11:1-45) is filled with the hope of Jesus, Who tells Martha and us, “I am the resurrection and the life;whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” Then He gives us a visible confirmation of His words when, for the glory of God, He raises Lazarus from the dead. Even though Lazarus, like all of us, will once again taste bodily death, Jesus has shown us here that death cannot hold those who believe in Him, those who trust Him, those who hope in Him, holding firmly to His promise that one day they will reach their ultimate fulfillment, eternal life with Him.

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