April 2, 2017: 5th Sunday of Lent A
Click to hear Audio Homily
I wish there was a class or seminar on how to face death. Most of us are never prepared for the death of a loved one. Yet we also know that even if we did attend a class or seminar on death, we would still not be ready. For we are never ready for death, whether we are a faithful believer or a non-believer. At a funeral service, a non-believing person shared with a priest, “Perhaps there is Heaven for the faithful who believe there is life after death. Perhaps, then, to die is the greatest day of their life, but I do not observe that Christians live this way. It seems to me that they are as anxious as anyone else about dying, and earnestly seek to avoid death just as much as anyone else.”
Would any of us say that the day we die is the greatest day of our life on earth? Sounds odd doesn’t it? Like Mary and Martha grieving for the loss of their brother Lazarus in the Gospel, we would be weeping and sad--perhaps even be angry at God. When Jesus finally arrived after few days of intentional delay, both sisters complained to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The presumption of the sisters and those who came to comfort them was that if Jesus loved Lazarus, he would not have let Lazarus suffer and die. He would have prevented his sickness and he would have prevented his death.
Even though we are believers, we too have this presumption somewhere in the back of our minds. We hope that if we are faithful believers, Jesus would spare us of awful suffering in this life and give us painless death. So we find it puzzling and even offended at God when our loved one goes through agonizing and prolonged death process. It should be natural for us to wonder why God allowed some of the greatest of saints to suffer greatly in their dying process. Take for example St. John Paul II who suffered years of Parkinson’s Disease, St. Padre Pio who suffered the stigmata for 50 years, and St. Faustina dying at age of 33 with tuberculosis. It is a mystery why those who are called to a special holiness, those who loved God most ardently, are allowed to suffer in a great way.
Jesus does not in any way relish in our suffering and death. In fact, he fully participates in it himself. When Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, he weeps. He does not diminish the horror of suffering. He shows us that to weep and to mourn over the suffering and death of the world is natural. He recognizes that suffering and death is an evil, but he allows it to take place because he is going to conquer death rather than cure illness.
Next Sunday, we will welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with palms and then hear the painful account of Jesus’ passion and death. Then the week after we will hear about the the account of the Last Supper, betrayal by Judas, enormous suffering under the hands of religious leaders, and ultimately death on the cross. Some may wonder why we relive Jesus’ passion and death over and over again every year. Why focus on such a dark part of someone’s life, namely death? Why don’t we celebrate and remember the joyful memories of a person?
Perhaps it’s because we are forgetful that Jesus conquered death, which is our greatest fear and dread. We are forgetful of the glory of Our Lord’s Resurrection, which is the greatest testament of God’s love and assurance. Living comfortably here on earth, we are lulled into thinking that this is our home when in fact, we are in exile. Our personal prayers sometimes reflect this attitude: “Fix my health. Fix my finances. Grant me what I want.” In a sense we are asking God to make this earthly world a better place and we’ll be happy to stay here forever.
Jesus’ raising Lazarus from death shakes us from this attitude. We too will die one day. All of our belongings that we worked so hard to accumulate will end up in an estate sale or in the landfill. Our bodies will decompose and only our bones will stay in the tomb for many years. Yet we have the assurance from Jesus that he will call us out of our tomb, allow us to experience the resurrection of the dead, and enjoy his friendship for eternity. With this understanding, can we now say to ourselves that the day we die is the greatest day of our life because we will be with God forever in Heaven?
As we journey with Jesus to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we ask Our Lord to instill in us gratitude for what he suffered for us to conquer death--our greatest fear.