The prophetic message of Ezekiel today is about the resurrection of a people. He was prophesying during the Babylonian Exile in which Israel as a nation was likened to a wasteland of bones scattered across a desert valley. The Exile made Israel to have the experience of lifelessness, windswept and eerie, with hopelessness, needing extraordinary intervention or remedy. Through Ezekiel, God gave hope of restoration to his people Israel who were like lifeless dried bones that they would come to life again. In this way, their God would visit them as they had been crushed, deported and demoralized. This was a great message of resurrection. They would be touched by the spirit of God, their creator and liberator, restoring them to life, reversing their original disgraceful annihilation. That is why the powerful message is announced to us today: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. …you shall know that I am the Lord… I will put my spirit in you… (Ezekiel 37:12-14).”
In the raising of Lazarus, we find a fulfillment of what God promised to open our graves and restore us to life. When Lazarus died, his sisters, Mary and Martha were hopeless and helpless. When Jesus came, he was already four days in the grave and was like dry bones. The question was “can these lifeless bones live again (Ezekiel 37:3)?” That must have prompted Martha to say to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died… (John 11:21-28).” In their dialogue, Jesus reveals that he is the resurrection and life, that whoever beliefs in him even if he dies, will live and whoever lives and believes in him will never die. Martha coming to this faith in Jesus, went to call her sister, Mary that the Lord was asking for her. Mary repeated to Jesus what her sister had said to Jesus, if he had been there, her brother would not have died. Jesus became very empathetic and compassionate, wept at the death of Lazarus seeing the conditions of Mary and Martha. Deeply moved in spirit and troubled, he intervened revealing his divine presence and raised Lazarus from the dead. In this way he confirmed his revelation to Martha that he is the resurrection and life for those who believe.
The raising of Lazarus from the dead is a witness that the one who raises the dead to life will one day die and resurrect. By his life, death and resurrection, he will offer eternal life to those who believe in him. That is why after raising Lazarus from the dead, his Jewish contemporaries went to plot his own death. They also plotted to kill Lazarus because their fellow Jews were believing in Jesus on account of him. To continue to give life to people, Jesus empowered his holy church to continue what he had initiated. That is why Jesus ordered his disciples, remove the stone. On coming out from the tomb alive, Jesus ordered them, “untie him, and let him go free (John 11:44).” This is exactly what the church does through her priests in the sacrament of reconciliation. One who sins is like Israel in exile in Babylon; he is like Lazarus in the tomb completely dead and wrapped up in a cloth. The one who is in sin is lifeless like dry bones. The person cannot release himself or give life to himself. Jesus by means of his holy church, through the sacraments, will free the sinner. Through the words of absolution, Jesus unbinds the penitent and lets him go free filled with his life of grace. After his resurrection, he gave mandate to his disciples that whose sins they forgive are forgiven them and whose sins they retain are retained (see John 20:23). This is the ministry of binding and unbinding in the sacramental confession.
To be alive is to live in Jesus Christ and abide in the spirit of the one who is the resurrection and life, who rose from the dead; it is to live in Christ who ones was dead and who now lives eternally. It is because he lives that those who live in him will live. That is why St. Paul tells us today about the need to belong to Christ and says that if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, then he who raised Christ from the dead will bring our mortal bodies to life also through his Spirit dwelling in us (see Romans 8: 8-11).