God is preparing us, little by little, for the forthcoming celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Last week we had rose vestments, we’ve got our penance services going on, it’s Spring Break, and it’s getting a bit warmer out. And now God has given us these readings—all about the resurrection of the dead. I almost hesitate to preach on the resurrection given that it is still Lent, but the readings seem to suggest I do. So I will.
I want to focus, at least for a moment, on the resurrection of the dead. It’s an important dogma of our faith, but one that is I’m afraid often glanced over these days. It is a belief which we have held from the beginning. We believe that, when Jesus returns, God will raise our bodies up from the earth and they will become glorified bodies in heaven. We proclaim belief in this every time we recite the Creed at Holy Mass: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead….” It’s in the Scriptures: all of our readings reference it today, and you’ll find it in plenty of places. For example, 1 Cor 15. It’s also in the Catechism (CCC 1017). It’s everywhere with the Church Fathers. And in particular, it is in the prayers of the funeral Mass and the burial. It will be a beautiful day, that glorious day when our bodies are gloriously raised up! They won’t be these decrepit bodies, but glorified bodies says scripture. I think I will have hair in heaven!
NB: This is why the Church continues to prefer burial of a body instead of cremation, and why we reverence the deceased’s body so much. Let me quote from the norms of the decree of the USCCB that is in the Order of Christian Funerals:
413 Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites.
414 The Church’s teaching in regard to the human body as well as the Church’s preference for burial of the body should be a regular part of catechesis on all levels and pastors should make particular efforts to preserve this important teaching.
It goes on to talk about how there may be “extraordinary circumstances [which] make the cremation of a body the only feasible choice.” So it can happen. But when it does, the decree continues, the remains should be buried entirely and immediately after the funeral (not scattered across the Pacific, or divvied up to family members, or put on the mantle). Every son or daughter of God deserves a Christian burial. All of this is because the body is sacred, so much that God will raise it up into his glorified body one day. The body is of great value, not simply a shell. Why ? Because it is through the body that we love, that we become holy. We cannot do that without our bodies. Imagine a man who has fallen in love with a girl. It would be ridiculous if he said, “Now you stay away from me, and we’ll just think about each other.” No…there must be a bodily presence and connection; it’s how we love, how we become holy. And so we reverence the body carefully after death, knowing that one day, God will raise up our mortal bodies if we are faithful. This has been the constant teaching of the Church, this belief in the bodily resurrection.
Martha believed in it. In our Gospel today, she is terribly sad at the loss of her brother Lazarus. Jesus comes and says, “Don’t worry; your brother will rise.” And then Martha says, “I know, I know, on the last day….” But she is still sad. That’s because she hasn’t fully gotten it yet, which is maybe one reason Jesus becomes “perturbed.” Yes, says Jesus, he will rise on the last day! But I also want to raise him here and now, too! I want to bring him to life now!
God wants to raise us to new life, to breath his spirit into us—not just on the last day, but now. That first reading—so beautiful! It comes from chapter 37 of Ezekiel, and it’s an excerpt from the Valley of the Bones chapter. God says in our first reading from Ezekiel today: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them…. I will put my spirit in you that you may live!” God puts the prophet Ezekiel right in the middle of a heap of dead bones and tells him to speak life into the bones, and bone by bone, muscle by muscle, they come together…..and then they form a “vast army.” Talk about God breathing life into people!
Sometimes, you and I are that pile of bones. We sit there, frozen-like, stuck in some sin or some sad situation or sickness or addiction that makes us….sometimes…utterly lifeless. Sometimes a loss can paralyze someone, or a personality defect can make on feel dead. Sometimes an addiction can rob a man and his family of what life is meant to be. Sometimes people just get stuck and some cycle of monotony or drudgery.
And God comes to us in those places and says, “I will put my spirit in you that you may live!” I want to raise you up out of this thing, out of the depths of your distress, out of the agonies of your problems—and I am going to put my life in you! That’s what St. Paul is talking about, too. He says: “Look! The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” It’s like that song on KLOVE. That’s a powerful spirit within us. He will raise our bodies up on the last day, yes, but he also wants to raise us now! To breathe life into that pile of bones that we sometimes are, or to wake up that Lazarus that we sometimes can be.
A parishioner or ours here at OLG, a friend of mine, she told me about a Christmas miracle. She’d lost her husband a few years back, and it was too much for her to bear. For a long time she was terribly sad, and sometimes almost couldn’t move. She felt kind of dead inside. Then she went to the adoration chapel on Christmas Eve. She told me, “I can’t explain to you what happened in there. But I left there a different person. It’s like Jesus lifted my burden from me.”
God breathed new life into her! He renewed her, woke her up. And he wants to do that with all of us…..our every holy hour, every homily, ever reception of communion, every confession……it should bring us to a deeper level, it should raise us up a tiny bit (or a lot a bit) more….to new life. May it be so. Amen.