Death is the problem. It’s the problem of lovers, who wish to spend their whole lives together but know they cannot. It’s the problem of parents, who shake with fear when they consider the mortality of their children.
It’s the problem of each one of us. We, who want to have some effect upon the world, want to be remembered for something.
Death is the problem.
“‘Lazarus has died’” (Jn 11:14).
We frequent readers of the Gospels know that the death of Lazarus in the Gospel of John is a sign. It is the seventh and last sign that Our Lord performs, a sign that points toward his own death and resurrection.
But perhaps we too quickly pass over the reality of the death. We miss the hopeful pleading of Martha, “‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:21).
We do not notice the weeping of Our Lord, who mourns the suffering of Martha. Who mourns the departure of his friend Lazarus.
We, perhaps, are not aware that after three days in the tomb, a sign of the Resurrection itself, the body would have decomposed.
Lazarus hasn’t just died. He’s dead. Very dead.
“‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’” (Jn 11:25-26).
Jesus’ words only mean something if we consider the reality of death, the death of Lazarus and our death.
We will die. The relationships we hold so closely to ourselves: our marriage, our children, our friends — we will not be with them forever.
Jesus comes into the world to save us from this problem of death. Death does not have the last word. Just as Lazarus is rescued from the world of the dead, just as our Lord Jesus Christ trampled down death by his death, we, too, will be saved from the shadows of death.
“Lazarus, come out!” (Jn 11:43).
As Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he performs a sign that reveals the depths of God’s love, of the power of divine love over death itself. He fulfills the promise of Ezekiel, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them” (Ez 37:12).
Lazarus is raised from the dead. Jesus is raised from the dead. We will be raised from the dead.
Dear friends, we already taste the fruits of this new life. As St. Paul preaches to us this week, “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 also, through his Spirit dwelling in you” (Rom 8:11).
The Spirit, in baptism, already dwells in our mortal bodies. Divine life pulsates through our flesh and blood. We have turned from the sorrows of death, from the darkness of sin, toward life in Christ.
We will still die. But we die now in Christ. We die in his death and thus live in his life.
Our turn from sin to grace, from darkness to light, from death to new life is now a sign for the entire world to behold.
Death will not win. Darkness does not have the last word.
Love alone wins.
“Lazarus, come out!”
Let us join our brother, Lazarus. Let us leave behind our sin, our love of the darkness, and enter into the light of life.
Jesus is the Resurrection and life.
Let us rise.
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.