Death & Life in Jesus

5th Sunday of Lent-A

Gospel Reading: John 11:3-7,17,20-27,33-45 ©

Mary and Martha sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’

Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone.

Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:
‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

Other Readings:  Ezekiel 37:12-14;Romans 8:8-11; Ps 129:1-8

I WONDER how many of us remember the last funeral liturgy or funeral mass we have attended. Several months ago, I attended a funeral vigil of a relative. I remember the priest presiding that vigil liturgy saying that we mourn not for the dead but for ourselves; we mourn and we grieve because we lose somebody we love.

griefIn the gospel, we heard that people grieved for the loss of Lazarus—a brother to Martha and Mary, a neighbour to the community and a friend. We even hear that Jesus cried when Mary asked him why he allowed their brother to die; they sent for him days before Lazarus’ death.
 
And Jesus knew Lazarus was dead. In fact, he has caused this very scene, and was “glad” that his friend died to make his disciples and perhaps others who knew Lazarus believe in him. He also knew he can raise Lazarus back into life; Jesus knew that death will not have a final say over Lazarus’ life, or any other human life.
 
lazarusSo why did he cry? The story of the raising of Lazarus brings to our attention the humanity of Jesus and the reason and significance why he came. When God became man in the person of Jesus he embraced everything that makes us human—with one exception: our weakness to sin.In this story, Jesus did not just know and encounter death in an abstract way but in a more concrete, personal way. As one theologian says, Jesus felt death in his bones and the cold sting of a loved one laid in a tomb.
 
The story also tells us that grieving is a natural human response to whatever loss we experience in life—not only in the instance of death. We grieve the lost of our country of origin when we came to Australia; we grieve when our children leave the family home; we grieve when we lose our jobs, social status, our health—any change in life can be an occasion to grieve.And we express our grief in many ways. But the point is we should accept that grief is a part of our life; we should let ourselves grieve and let others help us in overcoming our grief.
 
As mentioned before, another lesson we can take home from this story is the significance of our faith in Jesus in relation to death.Ezekiel in the first reading said: “I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel.” Jesus came to this world to conquer death and grant those who believe in him eternal life for as he said in gospel “‘I am the resurrection and the life.”
 
Two weeks ago Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, in the Rite of Election, received one of our parishioners into the Order of the Elect. Since then Charles is preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist—through the process of scrutiny.This is his last scrutiny where he, together with his sponsors, reflects on the promise not only of the forgiveness of his sin brought about by baptism but also the promise of a new life—in Christ and for Christ.
 
For us, this is also an opportunity to recall the same promise that is given to each and everyone of us when we were baptised into the Church; that when we were baptised, we died with Christ from our old selves—that is exactly what it means when we see a person being baptised immersed into water. But with Christ, we also gain the promise of resurrection and eternal life; after baptism, we become a new person—a new creation.
 
In a way, the story of the raising of Lazarus, prefigured that promise of eternal life to all those who consider Jesus as his or her friend. It also tells us something about God’s love for us and his purpose of creating us.The Church teaches us that “God wants more for us, his creatures, than a transient nature. He wants us to live with him as he created us, body and soul.”
 
As we prepare for the celebration of the Paschal Triduum and Easter, let us reflect on the words of Jesus in the gospel: “If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”But Jesus is also asking each and every one of us the same question he asked of Martha: “Do you believe this?”—Do we really believe in Jesus?