We are not meant to live in fear or dread of death.
Our three readings this Sunday focus on God’s promise: the promise of everlasting life at the end of our Christian journey on this earth. Our central text, from John's Gospel, is the story of the raising of Lazarus, dead four days in the tomb. Except for Jesus, every character in the story is limited by his or her expectations; they cannot yet fully see Jesus for who he is, though they have come quite far along their journey. They are in need of internal light – not an exterior source shedding light on their misunderstanding, but a light from within, so that they can see even where there is darkness. In the story of Lazarus, Jesus moves them all along, to a point where at last they have an inkling of who he truly is and what he has come to accomplish. Martha, for example, knows that God will listen and grant whatever Jesus requests (though she does not yet see Jesus as God). Jesus’s invocation, Untie him, is not simply a literal request: untie him, Jesus is saying, from the bonds your limited faith has put him in! Let him be raised, that you might see, and believe! The irony, of course, is that Jesus is on the path to his own death even as he raises his friend Lazarus from the tomb. Yet I AM the Resurrection and the Life, he tells Martha, and soon we will see him rise himself.
The key, here, is holding onto God’s promise. In our reading from Ezekiel, the people of Israel are slaves in a foreign land, and their witness to God’s kingdom has been torn apart. They are without hope. Here, only God has the power to raise this nation from the dead, opening their (metaphorical) graves so that they might restore the kingdom. Out of the depths, the psalmist cries out in De Profundis (Psalm 130). Lamenting, the psalmist recognizes his sinfulness, yet trusts in God’s great capacity to save; faith is the very reason he has for praying from those depths.
And so, as Paul indicates to the Romans, Lazarus’s second death should not be cause for concern, as now they know, thanks to the dying and rising of Jesus, that there is something more to hope for: permanent resurrection of the dead, all the dead, and the promise of eternal life. If you allow the Spirit of Christ to enter you, to dwell in you, you will be – as you are called in baptism to be – God-centered and other-centered. Our whole life from baptism is an ongoing journey of transformation, that sacrament being the very beginning of a journey of living with the Spirit of Christ alive in us. It will lead us to, take us to, death, but it will culminate in life in our mortal bodies, and our own eternal dwelling with Jesus forever.
This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.