The Uncertainty of Death
Homily for April 2, 2017 5th Sunday Lent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
There’s an old saying that there are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes. And while, if you’re poor enough or clever enough, you might be able to avoid paying some taxes, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re rich or poor, you’re going to die someday. And sadly, the ones we love will eventually die too.
But while death and the pain caused by it are inevitable, with faith we can find strength to continue on with our life. And today’s Gospel gives us some pointers on the reality of our future, if we trust in God.
It begins simply enough. Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that his good friend, their brother Lazarus, is seriously ill. They know about Jesus; more importantly, they KNOW him and WHO he is – the Son of God. So they reach out to him to intercede on behalf of Lazarus.
Don’t we do the same thing whenever a family member or one of our dear friends is sick and in need of healing? Reach out to our prayer groups and prayer warriors and ask them to storm heaven to intercede for us?
But instead of going immediately to see Lazarus, Jesus stays on the other side of the Jordan. His statement that Lazarus wasn’t going to die, that there was a purpose to his illness, may have seemed a little strange but, as he had cured many people, maybe they thought he’d do the same thing remotely. After all, Lazarus lived near Jerusalem and the Jews there wanted to stone him. Who’d blame him for staying where he was?
But Lazarus died.
It can be hard to imagine the pain and grief that Mary and Martha was going through unless you have experienced that kind of loss yourself – and most of us have. Not just death of a loved one, although that is the ultimate loss, but the loss of a job; the loss of house and home through a natural disaster or other catastrophic event; a break-up in our relationship with another. We pray and pray and may even experience a glimmer of hope: interviews for a better job; insurance payments or help from friends and family; the discovery of a miraculous cure or the word that the cancer is in remission. And then the other shoe drops.
Mary and Martha probably felt that glimmer of hope as they sent word to Jesus, hoping that he would get there in time to heal Lazarus. And when he didn’t; when their brother died and still Jesus didn’t show up right away, their grief must have been tremendous – along with frustration, despair and maybe even anger.
We see that in the responses from Mary, Martha and their friends:
"Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died."
"Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"
Their sobbing reflects the intensity of their grief and mourning.
And Jesus wept.
Why did Jesus cry? After all, Jesus knew that Lazarus wasn’t going to remain in the tomb. He knew that, despite being buried for 4 days, Lazarus was going to rise and be with his family and friends, and that there would be great joy and celebration. So why did Jesus weep?
Empathy. Empathy is more than just witnessing another person's pain or joy; it is the ability to understand and SHARE their feelings, especially the feelings of sorrow and pain. Jesus FELT their grief; their pain was real and no amount of knowledge that “everything will be all right” can take that pain away from them. It was more than Jesus “knowing” that they were in pain; he FELT a pain that was so intense it made people cry. And so He Wept.
In his book, “A Grief Observed”, well-known author C.S. Lewis records his personal observations on how he dealt with the many issues associated with the sudden death of his wife to cancer: his grief, including the pain; the depression; the awkwardness of dealing with well-meaning friends who didn’t always know the right words to say; the loneliness; the anger he had towards God; and how he ultimately returned to his faith. I recommend the book to anyone who has experienced a sudden loss of a loved one or to those who know someone who has.
Now, if all that this Gospel was about was Jesus performing a miraculous cure for Mary and Martha because Lazarus was a friend, then it would be a wonderful story but it wouldn’t tell us much about God the Father or Jesus his Son. After all, Lazarus eventually died again and that time wasn’t raised from the dead. So what is Jesus telling us?
1. God loves us and understands our pain in loss.
2. Grief is natural and expected.
3. There’s a purpose to our life – and death – which we may never fully understand.
4. Even in death, there’s hope for those of faith.
5. Jesus is calling us to come to him, even if we’re bound up in sin.
6. No matter how tightly our sins bind us, they are not enough to keep God from freeing us.
7. Death is not the end of life – merely a prelude to something better.
As we approach Easter, we will witness Jesus’ Passion and Death next Sunday and throughout Holy Week. As we reflect on what we hear and see, let us remember that all of the scriptures which we heard today are meant to remind us of God’s love for us and His promise that death isn’t an end for us.
There will be the dawn of an Easter morning for each of us.