April 2, 2017
I have mentioned both in my preaching and in the bulletin that the Gospels of this year (Year A of the three year cycle) are designed to instruct and encourage those who are preparing for baptism at Easter. They begin the process as catechumens, are presented to the Bishop at the beginning of Lent and are then called “the elect”; finally they will be called “neophytes” after their initiation - meaning “newly enlightened ones”. The last two Sundays have reassured them that they will receive forgiveness and understanding through their new faith. This Sunday, with the third and final Scrutiny, the Gospel holds out to them the most extraordinary promise made by Jesus to his disciples, the promise of eternal life with God beyond this world.
In the first reading the prophecy of Ezekiel speaks of a time of resurrection: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them”; and then in the Gospel Jesus explains how this hope is fulfilled in and through Him: “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”. It’s the same belief that we state in the Creed, which soon the catechumens will be able to recite with us: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”; and we find it often in the words of the Mass, which they will share with us in only two weeks - for example in the conclusion of Eucharistic Prayer III: “We hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory”.
In common speech we say that someone “has gone to a better place” when they die; and we mean it sincerely, especially when the last part of their mortal life has been full of suffering. Even so, our belief does not take away the sense of loss we have when someone dear to us dies. Today’s Gospel describes the conversation of Jesus with his friends Mary and Martha, following the death of their brother Lazarus, and it is very clear that what we believe in our head cannot remove the pain we feel in our heart: “When Jesus saw (Mary) weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled…And Jesus wept”. Those last three words (John 11: 35), the shortest verse in many English translations of the Bible, give us a glimpse of the immense compassion of our Lord. Pope Saint Leo the Great said about this scene: “In his humanity Jesus wept for Lazarus; in his divinity he raised him from the dead”; and we should not feel disloyal if our sadness for a time overwhelms our long-held beliefs. We are human and so it takes time before our faith that our loved ones are in the hands of God can comfort us. And that experience of sadness should also make us determined to live our lives in such a way that we shall not be separated from our loved ones for ever, but should grow all the closer to Jesus: through Him one day we can be reunited with them and share with them the vision of God.