Whoever said the only things certain in life are death and taxes must not have been a Catholic! Today's readings could not more clear: I will open your graves and have you rise from them...I will put my Spirit in you, that you may live...if the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies...I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will never die. In other words, the darkness of sin and the sting of death have been conquered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so we can also be certain of the promise of a new life in Christ.
The truth of God's promise is all around us, just look around. Spring is in the air. The dead of winter yields to the freshness of Spring. Last years’ dead leaves have fallen and new leaves are sprouting. Last year’s flowers have wilted and new flowers are blooming. Tonight the sun will set and tomorrow morning the sun will rise. This is the genius of God’s creation. Like the tides of the ocean, the seasons allow for the old to die, making way for the new.
Similarly, the Church has its own seasons – Advent, when we prepare for the birth of Christ and his second coming; Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus and his nativity; Lent, when we prepare for the Passion and Death of Christ by atoning for our sins and reconciling with God and each other; Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, his ascension into Heaven, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; and between each of these special seasons, we have Ordinary Time when we celebrate a host of feast days and solemnities. Each of these seasons is marked with special colors and purpose. Like the four seasons in the sun, the Church seasons alternate between periods of preparation and renewal.
So, this is the last weekend of Lent. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, marking the beginning of Holy Week. Are we ready? What have we done during Lent to prepare ourselves? What efforts have we made to reconcile with God and with our families and neighbors? Are we ready to die to our old self (that prideful, sinful person that I am) and be reborn in Christ? If not, we better get busy!
Might be helpful to recap the gospels we encountered during the five weeks of Lent. The first gospel of Lent recounts the time when Jesus retreated into the desert for 40 days and was tempted by the devil. The second gospel describes the Transfiguration, where Jesus lead Peter, James and John up the mountain so they could hear for themselves the voice of God the Father and see Jesus in all his glory. Right there, in these two gospels, we see that Jesus is both human and divine. Human because Jesus was tempted by the devil, just as we are, and divine because of his transfiguration. In the third gospel, Jesus encounters the sinful woman at the well, giving her the water of eternal life. And, last week, we encountered a blind man, whom Jesus healed. After his encounter with Jesus, the blind man could see. What these gospel passages teach us is that God became man and dwelt among us so that He might reconcile us to Him and open our eyes to his healing grace. But does He have the power to save us from death?
Today’s gospel definitively answers that question when Jesus raises from the dead his good friend Lazarus. The passage is rich in meaning because we can closely identify with the humanity of Jesus, shown by his emotions. Jesus loved Lazarus, he wept or cried when told of his death, and was deeply troubled.
It was at the tomb where Jesus groaned in agony. This assures us that Jesus does not love us abstractly, but personally. He comes close to us. His groaning points to the pain that God must feel when we are lost and imprisoned due to the darkness of sin. When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he asks, “Where have you laid him?” How could Jesus not know for himself the location of Lazarus? Because, when sin alienates us from God, we become strangers to Him. Just as God, in the book of Genesis, looked for Adam and Eve who were hiding from him, Jesus does not know where his friend Lazarus was buried.
Once taken to the tomb, Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!” This is the voice of God who hates sin and death and proves His dominion over both. When we feel alienated from God, we tend to lock ourselves up in the darkness of our own anxiety and fear. But there is a divine power sent into this world whose very purpose is to break through all the stones and barriers that have us imprisoned. “Lazarus, come out!” These words are so powerful, yet so comforting. From whatever grave we are trapped in, Jesus calls us out of our tomb so that we too can be free.
No matter the sin, no matter how far we have fallen, Jesus calls us to come out from hiding so that he can restore us to new life. Just as Jesus dies and resurrects on Easter Sunday, we too have the opportunity to shed our old self and begin a new life in Christ. This is the Easter we anticipate.
There was a time when I feared dying. Especially when I was a young father, I worried about my children and my wife should something happen to me. But now our children are grown, our daughter got married last week and our son will soon leave to college. At some point along the way, and I cannot pinpoint an exact day or a time, I realized that I was no longer worried about dying. Once I recognized that our children are well prepared and they are going to be okay when I am gone, a tremendous sense of peace came over me that has stayed with me ever since.
This is the difference between the world and people of faith. The world fears physical death because, to them, death is the end. How sad and depressing. But since people of faith are assured of life after death, we need not fear death, for whoever believes in Christ will never die.
As we enter this final week of Lent, listen closely for his command: Lazarus, come out! Jesus calls each of us to come out from our tomb. By doing so, He frees us from death so that we can live the joy and hope of Easter Sunday.