Unwrap Him and Set Him Free
March 13, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Sunday of Lent
Reading I (Ezekiel 37:12-14) Reading II (Romans 8:8-11)
Gospel (St. John 11:1-45)
In the first reading today, we hear from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel a very famous passage about God saying to the Israelite people that He will open their graves, that He will have them rise from their graves, that He will restore them to the land of Israel, that He will put His Spirit within them. Now this is very important for a couple of reasons. First of all, of course, it points to the resurrection, but also within Judaism at the time there were different factions and many of the Jewish people did not believe at all in the resurrection. And so when this kind of prophecy is presented, this is going to shake the foundations of some of these people with regard to their faith.
Along with this, the Church presents to us the Gospel reading of Our Lord bringing forth Lazarus from the grave. Now this was not a resurrection. Lazarus was resuscitated and he would have to die again. With Our Lord it is entirely different. He was resurrected, and, as Saint Paul says, Death has no more power over Him. He has destroyed death in His Resurrection. For Lazarus, he was brought forth from the dead, and it was a miracle to be able to demonstrate the truth about the Lord’s divine power.
It is also interesting that if we look at Saint Luke’s Gospel, which we recently heard, there is a rich man by the name of Dives who had a beggar named Lazarus sitting at his gates. Lazarus longed, as we recall, to eat even the crumbs that the dogs ate which fell from his table, but nothing was ever offered. When this rich man died and was in hell, he cried out to Abraham, At least send Lazarus to my brothers because if someone would only go to them from the dead then they would believe. And Abraham said, They have Moses and the prophets. If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets neither will they listen if someone rises from the dead. So here we have a man by the name of Lazarus who comes from the dead, and what was the response? They wanted to kill Jesus because people were being converted due to what happened with Lazarus. Even though someone had come back from the dead, still they did not want to believe.
Even now when we have a definitive situation of someone rising from the dead to eternal life when Our Lord rose on Easter Sunday, how many people still refuse to believe it? Even among Christian people, when we recognize that Easter is the most prominent feast in the entire year and is the most important event in human history, most people still tend not to pay much attention to it. Perhaps we simply do not think much about it because how do we understand it and what is it going to look like? We do not know. We do not have any experience of it in any kind of personal way, so maybe it just seems too vague. It is not that we do not believe on an individual level, but it is that we just simply do not let it affect us too much, which is pretty sad because this is the defining element of who we are as Christian people.
Saint Paul makes that very clear in the second reading: If the Spirit of the One Who raised Jesus from the dead is in you, then God will raise your mortal bodies also. He will give life to us who are dead in sin, and He is going to bring us to resurrection. So it is not only what defines us now, but ultimately it is what is going to define us for all eternity because each and every one of us is going to rise from the dead. Whether you wanted to believe that you would or not does not make one bit of difference; every last one of us will rise from the dead. Jesus said, Some will rise to life and some will rise to condemnation. Or as the prophet Daniel says, Some will rise and shine like the stars in the sky, and others will be an everlasting horror and a disgrace. Each and every one of us will rise from the dead. That body, that one right there in the pew, that body is going to rise from the dead, not a different one; it is you and it is your body, and it will be reunited with your soul depending on where you go for the rest of eternity. There are only two possibilities for eternity. Purgatory, remember, passes away on the last day. And remember too that we make our choice in this world; it is not when we stand before Jesus for judgment – by then our choice has already been made. So we need to choose now which way we are going to go.
Saint Paul told us in the second reading that the body is dead because of sin but the spirit lives because of grace. All of us are sinners and we recognize what sin does to us. It brings death, it brings suffering. Yet, at the same time, when we look at the reading from the Gospel, we see Jesus going to the tomb of His friend Lazarus and He calls him forth from the tomb. He calls him out of death into life. That is exactly what He is doing for each one of us. God does not rejoice in the death of a sinner. He rejoices in the death of His saints, but not in the death of a sinner. God is calling us out of sin so that we can repent, so that we can be forgiven, so that we can have life once again, and so that we can share in the divine life now. Anyone who is in the state of grace has a complete share in the divinity of Christ in this life and is preparing for what is to come for all eternity.
So we need to make sure that we are in the state of grace. If there is anything on your soul that you are aware of that is a mortal sin, I beg you, please come to Jesus in the confessional and confess your sins. Whatever stands in the way, get rid of it. Whatever it is, it is not worth losing heaven for. And it is something that all of us have to look at. Maybe right now we are not in the state of mortal sin, but maybe there is some area in our lives that we are addicted to. Maybe there is some attachment that is there that we really do not want to give up. We know that it is wrong, that it is sinful, but we kind of like it, though, and we do not want to get rid of it. So I ask you simply, do you want to go to hell with that? Or is it better to get rid of that and go to heaven? I can guarantee you that there is absolutely nothing on the face of this earth that is worth losing heaven over. Nothing. We need to get rid of anything that keeps us from God. The devil is very, very shrewd and he has placed before us many things that might appear good, things that bring certain amounts of selfish pleasure. But we know in the depths of our hearts that they are not good. They are not good for us individually, but even objectively they are sinful things and they need to go.
We need to look at those words that Our Lord spoke to Martha. He said, I am the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in Me will live even in death, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. And He looked at her and said, Do you believe this? That is the exact same question that He asks us: Do you believe? Not generically, not theoretically. It is not a question of “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?” Satan believes that Jesus is the Christ, and it is not doing him one bit of good. So it is not enough for us to say simply with Martha, Yes, Lord, I believe. I believe that you are the Christ, He Who is to come into this world. We have to act on that now. If we are going to say that we believe that, we need to put it into practice. If He is the Christ – and He is! – He came to destroy sin, He came to destroy death, and He came to give us new life, so we need to avail ourselves of that. We have to get rid of everything that has to do with the works of death – that is sin – everything that is the work of Satan, and we need to put on Jesus Christ. We need to live the life of Christ. That is what we are called to.
Our Lord is looking at each one of us today in our sinfulness, in the death that we carry in us because of sin, and He calls out to us, Lazarus, come out! We are going to look at the Lord. We are going to think about going to confession and we are going to say, “I don’t know because there’s going to be a stench! What I’ve done really stinks.” And the Lord will look at us and say, If you believe, it is for the glory of God. If we believe, we will come forth from the tomb of sin, from the self-inflicted death that we have brought upon ourselves because of sin, and we will rise to the new life of Jesus Christ, to the life of grace, and to a new way of living. That is what Our Lord is calling each one of us to do. This is His desire for us: that we would live, that is, true life, abundant life, the life of grace, the freedom of the children of God, no longer held bound by the slavery of sin, no longer held bound by the works of death, but as Scripture says, If the Son sets us free then we are truly free. He is calling us out of the tomb of sin and death into the freedom of new life of grace in this life and of resurrection and glory in the next.
So if we are going to profess that we believe, that we believe that the tombs will be opened and that He will place His Spirit within us, that while the body may be dead because of sin the spirit lives by grace, then let us listen to His voice as He calls each one of us by name to come forth from the tomb. He will say to the priest in the confessional: Unwrap him and set him free. Hear those beautiful words: I absolve you from your sins. If you have not heard those for a while, come to Jesus. Come wrapped up in the works of death and hear His voice as He calls you forth from the death of sin, as He breaks the shackles that hold you bound and He sets you free so that you have true freedom as a child of God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.