“By the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it.” Wis. 2:24
“… Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, ‘Untie him and let him go.’” Jn. 11:43-44
As lent drives to its culmination, we hear about Jesus’ conquest of the final enemy: death. This is the final Sunday Gospel we will hear before Holy Week. The last two weeks have been building up to this weekend’s Gospel by showing Jesus’ power over sin.
Two weeks ago, in the story of the Woman at the Well (Jn. 4), we heard Jesus defeat sin’s power of shame and addiction.
Last week, we heard about the Man Born Blind (Jn. 9), which revealed Jesus’ destruction of sin’s power in the dysfunctional systems around us.
This week, the final enemy is destroyed.
Death enters the picture with the sin of Adam and Eve. This sin alienated Adam and Eve and us, their descendants from the life of God. “For you are dust, and to dust, you shall return” (Gn. 3:19). That is our condition. We are all going to die, and there is nothing we can do about it. We can delay death by taking care of ourselves, but all of us are mortal and we will die. Through sin, our own sin and that of Adam and Eve, we all are subject to the power of death.
Yet, today’s Gospel reading reveals that, as powerful and pervasive as death is, it is not almighty. In the Gospel we see Jesus confronting the power of death over His friend Lazarus. Jesus is victorious and Lazarus is resuscitated. This victory over the death of one person points us forward to Jesus’ ultimate victory over death through the events we celebrate in Holy Week. It is by His crucifixion and resurrection that Jesus ultimately defeats sin’s greatest power and frees us from the power of death.
When I was young, at a time when Europe was torn apart by so many conflicts, I kept on asking myself: Why all these confrontations? Why do so many people, even Christians, condemn one another out of hand? And I wondered: is there, on this earth, a way of reaching complete understanding of others? Then came a day – I can still remember the date, and I could describe the place: the subdued light of a late summer evening, darkness settling over the countryside — a day when I made a decision. I said to myself, if this way does exist, begin with yourself and resolve to understand every person fully. That day, I was certain the vow I had made was for life. It involved nothing less than returning again and again, my whole life long, to this irrevocable decision: seek to understand all, rather than to be understood.
Br. Roger of Taize 1915-2005
On August 16, during a prayer service at Taize,
Brother Roger is fatally wounded by a mentally unbalanced assailant.
This day, Patriarch Athenagoras enters the life of eternity. With him we lose a man of the same prophetic vein as John XXIII. He had no lack of trials in his final years… Nevertheless, he was always optimistic. “In the evening, when I retire to my room,” he told me once, “I close the door on all my cares, and I say: Tomorrow!”
Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life, because of sin… began to experience teh burden of wretchedness in unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.”