From and through death, to life

The last of the seven signs in the Gospel according to John is the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45), signs that glorify the Father as they intimate the true identity of, and enkindle faith in, Jesus. The raising of Lazarus as a theophany points to the mission of Jesus, whose glory is the conquest of death with eternal life-giving love.

‘I am the resurrection and the life’

For John, the raising of Lazarus was the event that led onward to the death of Jesus. The act of bringing his friend back to life ironically set in motion the scheme by his enemies that would lead to his own death. Yet, when informed of his friend’s sickness, Jesus pointedly said it would not end in death, rather it would be for the glory of God. Just like the blindness of the man born blind, this sickness of Lazarus would not be the triumph of sin and its consequence. Jesus was sure of the power of God, of the eternal life He came to share with humankind. And when He heard that Lazarus had died, He referred to it as a sleep from which He would like to awaken His friend. And He told His disciples, “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.”

Four days in the tomb, Lazarus was gone beyond retrieval. Confronted with the grief and, at the same time, trust of Martha (and of Mary), who could only blurt out in perplexity: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”—Jesus made the paradoxical revelation, “I am the resurrection and the life”. Its precise meaning is “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die”. Physical death is just a sleep to one who believes in Jesus, and there is a sure awakening from it in the resurrection from the dead. With faith in Jesus one cannot die forever. With Him and through Him, one is in communion with the Lord who is the source of eternal life.

‘Do you believe this?’

The inevitable question to Martha and Mary then, as well as to us all now, is, “Do you believe this?” This culminating revelation by Jesus in word and in the deed of raising Lazarus back to life demands a response of faith if its message of everlasting life is to be availed of. Do we accept Jesus as our life? Is He to us life that is stronger than death? The process of moving from death to life is started for us in Baptism, at which we are reborn to the life of faith in Jesus Christ. Our experience of the resurrection already now is in Baptism, the sacrament of our participation in the Easter victory of Jesus over death. Like Lazarus, we are summoned to pass from death to life.

In the sacraments of our full initiation into Jesus Christ, in Baptism and the Eucharist, eternal life is ours. For us as initiated in the communion with the Triune God, physical death is an exodus, a passage to the fullness of our everlasting covenant with the Almighty. Life is constantly threatened by death. The Jews wanted to stone Jesus, and Thomas wanting to go with Jesus to liberate Lazarus from the hands of death told his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” All who go with Jesus must face death; Jesus shows us the way: loving all the way even in death is the way to life.

Alálaong bagá, we are challenged to reflect, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” Darkness and death are there to be conquered. And Jesus, “perturbed” at the destructive powers of sin and death, is there to do battle with evil. His victory is total and absolute. As we move on in the Holy Week beyond death on the cross to life, we must be able to say with Martha, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah”—our resurrection and our life.

             ****

             Join me in meditating on the Word of God every Sunday, 5 to 6 a.m. on dwIZ 882, or by audio-streaming on www.dwiz882.com.

 

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