Life in the Presence of Death

lazarus
March 10, 2011

John 11:  1-45

Today’s gospel is filled with death. Lazarus, the one who Jesus loved, has died. You can see the impact of that death upon his sister Martha and those who come to grieve with her. Martha certainly believes in Jesus’ power, but she also believes that the time for that power to help has passed. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Maybe at one time, Jesus could have helped. But now He can no longer do so.

The people who come to grieve with Martha also think that the possibility of life has passed them. They say, “He healed the eyes of the blind man. Why could he not have done something to prevent that this man from dying?” Death holds sway over this story—over Lazarus and over those who loved him. Into this story of death, Jesus enters. He enters as life.

Jesus speaks to Martha and promises her that life will come. It is important for us to note that Jesus promises Martha two kinds of life. We must understand and accept both of them. Jesus first promises future life: Lazarus will be raised up on the last day. That promise is also given to us. We, like Lazarus, will be raised from our graves to the new life of God’s kingdom. This promise of future life is important. It consoles us, telling us that our beloved dead are now with the Lord in Heaven and that when Jesus comes, they will be raised up bodily together with us to live in God’s presence forever.

So, the promise of future life is important. But that is not the only life that Jesus gives to Martha. He offers her present life. Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. And all those who believe in me will never die.” Jesus not only promises life on the last day, he promises life here and now, in his presence. We not only await for a life to come. In some sense we possess that life at this moment. How do we attain resurrection and life now?

Here, we have to be careful. We cannot be naïve or glib about the presence of evil. Evil is a part of our world. It touches us and those that we love. We suffer. The people we love die. We make disastrous mistakes that hurt ourselves and others. Yet, even in the presence of this evil, Jesus promises us life. We must be clear what he means. Evil is still with us. Evil will not be defeated until the victory of Christ on the last day. Therefore, the life that Jesus offers us today is not life instead of evil, but life in the midst of evil. Jesus does not promise us that we can avoid death. He promises us that we can have life, even in the presence of death.

How do we do this? By looking for the good. By looking for life. Even in our darkest moments, goodness and life are available. Jesus promises us that he will lead us to that goodness. We find life when we believe in the love of others. For that love continues even as we grieve and even as we suffer. We find life when we give ourselves to others in service. For even when we are discouraged and sick, we can still offer something of ourselves to others, and that gives us life. We find resurrection when we open ourselves to the beauty of nature and of music, when we laugh with friends, when we decide to light one candle rather than curse the darkness.

Jesus does indeed promise us future resurrection on the last day. We trust in that promise. But, He also offers us life now. Each time that we accept the love of others, that we give ourselves in service, that we look for the good and the beauty that surrounds us, we are able to rise above evil and death. In those moments we accept Jesus as our present resurrection and life.

 

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