I used to belong to a gym that was right next to a cemetery. Like all gyms, there was an area with treadmills, stationary bikes, ellipticals, etc. This area was at the back of the gym and had windows that looked out on the cemetery. I have to admit that there were times when I would look out the window as I got on the treadmill and thought, “What’s the point? I’m just going to end up there anyway.”
Yes, this is true, but what a fatalistic way of thinking! And without faith, I don’t see how we could get around that. What a miserable way to go through life. But as Christians, we should not give in to the temptation to fatalism – that everything is already decided anyway, so what does it matter what we do. That’s because our Christian faith gives us hope. And hope is the opposite of fatalism and of despair. Why do we have cause for hope? Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead and has the power to raise us from the dead also. And he has promised to do it if we believe in Him.
Jesus demonstrates his power over death in today’s Gospel reading from John in which Jesus raises Lazarus, who has already been dead for four days. Four days – that means there’s no question he is dead. And to Martha and Mary and all their friends, Lazarus’s death was a great tragedy, as the death of any loved one would be. We hear Martha’s sorrow when she says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Has there been a time in your own life when you experienced some kind of hardship or tragedy that made it difficult or even impossible to recognize God’s presence? Perhaps you could not understand why God permitted it to happen? Perhaps you felt that God had abandoned you? “Why would you let this happen, Lord?” you might have asked. “What is the point of this? Why would you permit this suffering?”
And yet, the pain and the suffering of this life do not have to be pointless. Let us hear again Jesus’ words when he has been told that Lazarus is ill: “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.” The suffering and death of this life are not meaningless; God can use them for his purposes, even though they are often hidden from us. Jesus could certainly have prevented Lazarus’ death. But in the end, he permitted it, because there was a greater good to be revealed. And that greater good was the truth that Jesus has power over death.
Death – this horrible thing that everybody is afraid of and spends their whole life dreading, that separates loved ones and causes so much grief and sorrow – Jesus has power over it. And he has promised to conquer it once and for all. This should give us hope and even peace.
And Martha gives voice to that hope in the Gospel. After she says to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she adds, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, He will give you.” Her faith in Christ gives her reason to hope. There is hope in what God has promised us and what he has in store for us. There is hope to be found in his mercy and love for us. There is hope in his words, proclaimed in our first reading by the prophet Ezekiel: “O my people, I will open your graves, and have you rise from them.” Or as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also.” You heard that right – someday we are going to get new and improved bodies! If that is not cause for hope, I don’t know what is!
God gives us signs of his love – reasons to hope – all the time. They are all around us. The Mass is one of these signs of hope. In it He reveals himself to us through his Word and in the Eucharist, his very Body and Blood. We receive Christ as spiritual food and are strengthened by it to continue to live our faith and to live in hope, even when there seems to be so much darkness.
How do we live this hope? If we have hope, we do not have to live in fear. Hope helps us to recognize the Lord’s power and that everything is in his hands. When we feel that we have no control, we can surrender to God our desire to be in control. When we feel helpless in a situation we are confronted with, we can surrender our helplessness to God and ask him to bring some good out of the situation. And we can also share with others the hope that our faith gives us, bringing hope to those who are in despair. This can be done through actions and through words: listening to them, giving them some words of encouragement, letting them know that they are not alone. Through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and so on, we can bring the hope of Christ to others. I encourage you to think of something this week that gives you hope, write it down on a piece of paper and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day as a reminder to hope.
Let us listen for Christ’s voice, calling us to come out of our tombs. He calls us even now to come out of the tombs of fear that enclose us and the tombs of sinfulness that entrap us, and one day he will call us to come out of the tombs where our bodies will be laid to rest. When he called Lazarus to come out of his tomb, Jesus then said to the onlookers, “Untie him and let him go.” It was only when he said this that Lazarus was freed from the bondage of death. Jesus seeks to do the same for each one of us: he desires that we be free of the bondage of sin and fear and hopelessness and death. For this, we have reason to live in hope.