By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 2 April, 2017
St Ninians & St Chads Church, Maylands
The Old Testament and Gospel readings today are well known and self-explanatory, but the reading from St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans provides a very useful link to them.
St Paul suggests that life is a symptom, not a cause. By that he means that we are not alive because we possess something that we call life in us. We are alive because we have the Spirit of God within us.
The first reading from Ezekiel is a message of hope to the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon. They had lost hope and were dried up like bodies in graves, but God promises to free them from their captivity, fill them with his spirit and lead them back to their homeland. It is worth noting that the Hebrew word ruach is translated in English as wind, breath and spirit.
A life that is not directed towards God, whether the individual person realises it, is an ‘existence’ rather than a ‘life.’ It is not that this simply misses the point; it is that it is hostile to the point of God’s creation. The purpose of God’s creation is to reflect the image of God and be creative. We are to be pro-life. When a person lives as though God does not exist, that person is destroying the very reason we exist, and drives him or herself further away from the source of life who is God himself. In our Western culture can get a feel of what life is like when God is rejected. No wonder the Catholic Church considers the morals of the secularists and Christian humanists regarding abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and gender fluidity to be hostile to God’s purposes. Without God, a culture of death can reign supreme.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is revealed as the Lord of both life and death. When he is told that Lazarus is sick he does not rush to his side. Jesus’ statement that the illness will not end in death doesn’t mean that Lazarus will recover. It means that death will occur but it will not cut Lazarus off from God’s love and presence. Jesus says that death enables God’s glory to be witnessed for God’s glory is revealed in his actions. So what is to be visible through Lazarus will be even more visible through the death of Jesus.
According to Jewish belief, the soul of a deceased person hovers over the grave for three days contemplating a return to the body, but once it sees that the facial colour has faded, it goes away, “never to return” (Genesis Rab 50:10). Jesus waited four days before going to Lazarus’ grave. He went in full daylight, so deliberately walking into a trap that led to his own death.
It is Lazarus’ sister, Martha who challenges Jesus about why he let Lazarus die. Jesus responds by telling her that Lazarus will rise again. She believes he will, but not before the Last Day, Jesus spells out the truth for her very clearly saying, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He is the one who has come down from heaven to bring the eternal life expected at the Last Day into the here and now on earth. Those who have faith in him will live even though they die, and those who live and have faith in him will never die.
Those who live a life of faith on earth are not exempt from dying in this world, but are promised a continuing life of faith beyond the death of the physical body. For the faithful, ‘Vita mutatur, non tollitur,’ ‘Life is changed, not taken away.’ This continuing life is not promised as a reward for being faithful to Jesus in your life on earth. Living a life of faith is eternal life, and is ours when we begin to respond to God’s invitation to do so at our baptism.
Jesus asked Martha if she believed this and she responded by making a statement of faith, “I believe that you are the Messiah.”
Jesus then goes to Lazarus’ tomb and calls him. The witnesses see the glory of God as he stumbles out still wrapped in the burial cloths. The question is whether these witnesses will also recognise the glory of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We are moving closer to Holy Week. Will you witness the passion of Christ through the eyes of faith or through the eyes of those who have no place for God and will spend the time at a footy match or racetrack? Your answer will determine whether your funeral will simply be a celebration of your life that you think has ended, or a celebration that your life is changed, not taken away.