2005—Fifth Sunday of Lent—A
This past week I was asked to come to anoint a three year old boy who was not expected to live throughout the day. When I arrived at the hospital in the early afternoon, I blessed him and prayed with the family. Before leaving the hospital I was speaking with his grandfather who is a parishioner here. He told me that Michael had died a few hours earlier and they were waiting for me to come. I didn't know what to think. How could I have not noticed. The room was darkened, the family was weeping, and young Michael was so still. As I thought more about it I realized that there was so much love for Michael in that room that I did not experience death but rather life. The love, care and compassion among all the family was so powerful that it spoke of life and not death.
I share that story with you because it speaks to me in a very real way about the gospel we have just heard. The gospel of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is one of the most dramatic, powerful and touching of all the stories we hear. It is about friendship, loss, regret and the power of life over death. I don't think any of us can hear this gospel and not think of our own loved ones. I don't think any of us can hear the words of Martha and Mary "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died" and not think of our own questioning where God was in the suffering and illness of a loved one.
But ultimately this story is not about death. It is an affirmation of Life. As Martha affirms her belief in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, so we are asked to affirm our belief that Jesus has the power of life over death. Yes, in this story, Lazarus is "raised". He comes back but he will die again. Our own stories do not speak of "coming back" from physical death as we see in this story of Lazarus. Even with Jesus as our friend and brother, we do not expect a loved one who has died to "come back" to the living. All the prayer in the world would not bring back young Michael after his physical life had gone from him. But in Jesus we are asked to see "Death" as temporary and Life as Eternal. We think of death being final, an end. But as Christians we look for signs of life that say. "NO" to death and yes to life.
Going to anoint young Michael the other day was a great gift for me. It reminded me of the core of our Christian faith. That is: The power of death has been forever diminished by the power of love! The resurrection of Jesus in which Michael shares continues to astound us with the reality that what seems to be an end is only a beginning. Through the pain, the loss, the vulnerability of life itself, love ultimately reveals the mystery and the meaning of life itself.