Over the past few weeks of this Lenten season, the gospel readings have been longer than usual. Taken from John’s gospel, they detail Jesus’ encounters with individuals and how they come to grasp Who He is. By listening to Him, they are drawn deeper into the mystery of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. As they come to believe in Him, they are changed forever.
Two weeks ago, we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. She had come at the hottest time of day to draw water. However, she meets Jesus who offers her the living water. She had been thirsting for love, for purpose and for freedom from her shame. And she found all these in Jesus, the bearer of the water of life. Professing faith in Him as the Messiah and Savior of the World, she found a new life bubbling up from within her - a living water.
Last week, we heard the powerful story of the healing of the man born blind from birth. The people of Jesus’ day would have considered his blindness a punishment for sins that either he or his parents had committed. Before meeting Jesus, he lived in total darkness. By professing faith in Him he is now cured. He is able to see Jesus, the Light of the World. Jesus uses the healing to teach His disciples - and us - that faith gives us new vision, seeing beyond appearances to the glory of God hidden in the world. Jesus is the Light which makes that new vision possible.
And today, we proclaim Jesus’ power over death. Martha, Mary and Lazarus were dear friends of Jesus. Whenever He passed through Bethany, He would stop at their home to enjoy their company and a meal with them. We know how deeply He loved them by the tears He sheds seeing Mary’s grief over her dead brother. Fulfilling the prophecy from Ezekiel in which God promised to open His people’s graves, Jesus commands Lazarus to come back to life, to come out from the tomb and to be unbound. Jesus shows that He exercises complete authority over death. Through faith in Him, the believer sees His glory and receives the new life over which the grave no longer has power.
When we hear the themes of these three powerful readings - living water, the light of faith and new life - one of the sacraments should immediately come to mind. Baptism. In that sacrament, we have water poured over our heads cleansing us from sin and purifying us to become God’s holy people. We would then have been given a candle with the words, “Receive the light of Christ. You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as a child of the light. Keep the flame of faith alive in your heart.” Finally, it is through baptism that the new life of Jesus’ resurrection is imparted to us. We receive the living water, are enlightened by Christ and walk in newness of life through the sacrament of Baptism.
These forty days of Lent are a time of sacrifice and purification in preparation for the great feast of Easter when we celebrate Jesus’ ultimate victory over sin and death. The high point of that celebration is the moment when we renew our baptismal vows. Having purified ourselves through prayer, fasting and acts of charity, we stand as a community, light a candle as a symbol of our faith, and recommit ourselves to rejecting Satan, the father of lies and professing our belief in God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ His only begotten Son and the Holy Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of Life. Then we will bless water and have it sprinkled upon us to revive within us the graces of our baptism freeing us from sin and empowering us to live as children of God.
At this point in human history, Jesus’ victory over death does not manifest itself by literally raising people from the grave. Rather, the new life of faith is evident in the power of His Holy Spirit who is living and active within us. Saint Paul teaches us in today’s second reading that through faith and baptism we have received God’s Holy Spirit. Because of this, “although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” This means that God is now at work raising His people from the graves of ignorance, selfishness and greed. God’s power over death manifests itself in His people being loosed from the bonds of addiction, unhealthy relationships and superstition. Whoever believes in Jesus sees His glory by having his or her life made totally new by the power of God’s Spirit.
However, there is more. When we renew our baptismal vows, we will also profess faith in the resurrection of the dead. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has made eternal life possible for us. The grave is not the end of our life story. Rather, we will continue to live beyond the grave and, at the end of history, we will receive a resurrected, glorified body incapable of pain, decay or death. This also is the result of God’s Spirit living within us as Saint Paul teaches us, “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through the Spirit dwelling within you.”
All this is the result of the God who in His great mercy and love has given us the living water and the light of faith leading us to a new and eternal life through the Holy Spirit.
In today’s gospel, Jesus assures Martha, “if you believe you will see the glory of God.” All these blessings are ours simply by believing in Jesus. Our act of faith made sincerely and humbly opens up the heavens to us. It does require an ongoing renewal of our consciences and change in our attitudes and behavior. But all that will come with time as the Holy Spirit increasingly makes His home within us.
As we enter into the last week or so of this Lenten season, let us focus then on Easter Sunday and the renewal of our baptismal vows. With a faith renewed by sacrifice and acts of charity, let us commit ourselves to Jesus, the Living Water, the Light of the World, and our undying hope for new and eternal life.