During the twelve years I have served as a music director for Catholic parishes, I have had the opportunity to provide music for hundreds of funerals. With each death, there are generally five stages someone who is separated from their loved one goes through. One of these stages is anger, and I believe we see that in today’s Gospel. The Gospel-writer tells us that Martha approached Jesus and confronted him about her dead brother. But I believe that she instead ran up to him, pounded her fists onto his chest, and shouted: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then, after a moment of deep and powerful weeping and emotion, she pulled herself away and quietly said: “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus then reassures her by telling her that he indeed is the “resurrection and the life.”
Now, if everyone had the faith of Martha, the story could have perhaps ended here. But, for Jesus, there was much more for us to learn. We first heard of Jesus’ intention to make the death of Lazarus an opportunity to affirm the power of God when, after Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he choose to remain where he was. At first, his disciples believed this to be a reaction to his fear of the Jews that tried to stone him, but he tells them that it is so that they might believe, something they did not fully understand at the time.
We do not know why Lazarus died, but we do know that he died in the Kidron valley, a Jewish community, and therefore would have been given a burial typical of the region. This included the wrapping of the body with linen cloths and placing it in a rock-hewn grave. These practices existed mainly for practical reasons: the high temperature in the region caused the quick decay of a body, and tombs which were cut into rock were readily available. The Jews also participated in the traditional three-day mourning ritual because they believed that after death, the soul of the deceased remained near the body for three days. During this time, a person who came near the deceased was at risk of having the freed soul entering their body and inhabiting them. After the third day, the soul then departed for the afterlife, and left-behind a decaying body. This is why it is so remarkable to the Jews that Jesus was able to bring Lazarus back from death. He not only raised his body, but brought his soul back to earth. Jesus accomplished this miracle by approaching the tomb of Lazarus and shouting: “come out!” Lazarus then rises and walks forward, restored to life once again.
Jesus, too, is calling us to come out. He is calling us to come out from our sinfulness. He is calling us to come out into a life filled with prayer and works of mercy. He is calling us to come out of the tombs which trap us from the lives we want so badly to lead. And, he is calling us to come to him at the altar, to receive him in the most precious gift of his body and blood.
In our lives, we have already known many who we have deeply loved who have died. We, too, will die someday. And when we do, we can be assured that Christ will be waiting for us, and will call us, one final time, into everlasting life.