As we approach Easter, appropriately enough, the question of death and resurrection surfaces.
So what does Jesus teaching around these issues look like?
Well, from today’s Gospel we’ve got: “If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live.” I’d like you to note something – even though he dies he will live. I’m placing emphasis on; even though he dies. What’s the alternative?
From elsewhere we find Jesus attempting to open the hearts and minds of the people to something greater: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more.” Luke 12:5
It’s a crisis situation. Lazarus is seriously ill. There’s a level of panic – family and friends need to be informed. Among Lazarus’s close friends is Jesus and so they send for Jesus – the man you love is ill, come quickly. Quickly – because if you don’t hurry he’ll be dead!
Yet Jesus doesn’t respond with any sense of urgency – he obviously doesn’t view death as the absolute human disaster – and doesn’t depart until two days later and by the time he arrives Lazarus is already dead for four days. When he arrives both Martha and Mary ‘mark his card’ so to speak: “If you had been here our brother would not have died.” Isn’t this the accusation that man fires at God all the time?
Martha and Mary have faith in Jesus – the faith comes from their close friendship. But while they have faith, it is faith that still has to grasp the full meaning of Jesus Christ and the human person, i.e., the immortality of the soul.
This is the big one – if Jesus can’t overcome death he’s useless to them – and to us!
Yet this is not Jesus definitive act. He calls Lazarus from the dead, gives him back to Martha and Mary, and we can only imagine the excitement of life in the years thereafter … until next time! Lazarus gets to die twice! Lazarus resurrection is not true resurrection, it’s unfinished business.
Try imagining life without death. “Time becomes madness if it cannot reach fulfillment. To be able to go on forever would be the hell of empty meaninglessness. No moment would have any importance because one could postpone and put everything off until an empty later which will always be there.” Karl Rahner.
Lazarus resurrection is a very poor reflection of Jesus resurrection, a dim reflection of Easter. Jesus resurrection is very different. After rising he’s no longer bound by time and space and he doesn’t wander aimlessly about the earth looking for meaningful employment! He ascends. There’s completion, fulfillment.
Death, in a truly Christian understanding, far from being the absolute human disaster, is the gateway to fulfillment, to completion. If you and I could go on without death we’d go absolutely mad! We’d choose death in sheer desperation!
“If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live.”