In a meeting that took place in a cemetery on the Friday before Palm Sunday, Martha (the sister of Lazarus) said to Jesus:
“Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would never have died.” “Your brother will rise again”, Jesus said to her. “ “I know that he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Five days before His Resurrection from the dead the Wednesday of Holy Week, a group of Sadducees approached Jesus (as we just heard in today’s Gospel). The Sadducees knew of the event of Lazarus’ death the previous week, and the reports of his being brought back to life by Jesus on Friday. The Sadducees did not believe in much of anything, but they wanted to trap Jesus.
They were wealthy priests in control of the Jerusalem temple who would adapt their beliefs to any government or system, as long as they could remain the privileged class. They were indifferent to the teaching and belief of their traditional Jewish Faith. They believed somewhat in the Torah – the books of the Law – but they did not believe in the prophets or other Biblical Books. They did not believe in life after death – they lived for this world; nothing was worth sacrificing for – especially sacrificing one’s life.
What a contrast to the Jewish mother and her seven sons in the first reading. They were arrested, tortured and murdered because they refused to compromise their Faith! They knew that death meant nothing. When he was near death, the fourth son said: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by Him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
In this month of November – the month of the Poor Souls – as we prepare to celebrate the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, the Church says: “WAIT JUST ONE MINUTE AND THINK ABOUT YOUR DEATH, YOUR JUDGMENT – WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY?
In the Preface for a funeral Mass, we are reminded: “At death, life is changed not ended!” Our Catholic Faith assures us that death is not the end of our personal story – it’s a continuation of life in a new way. St. Paul tells us: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
For those of us who try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church, death is not the end but rather the beginning of new life with the Risen Lord. The cold corpse which will be buried or cremated is only the house in which you once lived – something that you used for a time. Our life in this world is merely preparation for an eternal life with the Risen Christ; but that life is not automatic!
Faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of the Gospel. The God whom Jesus reveals to us is “not the God of the dead but of the living.” Jesus Christ is the First-born of the dead, we are to follow Him. He waits for us, he greets us in the moment of death, and he raises us to New and everlasting Life that no one will ever take from us.
How can I be so sure of this; because Jesus Christ has told us – He is God and He will not deceive us! Death cannot be the end because Jesus loved us enough to die for us. Death cannot be the end because Jesus rose from the dead. Death cannot be the end because Jesus Who is Life itself, promises us the gift of eternal life.
St. Paul said: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit which dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)
It’s natural to fear death and its process because it’s the one event in our lives that we have to do alone – that we have no control over. There will be an end for all of us. There will be a personal judgment for all of us. Heaven is not automatic; yet if we strive to be faithful, Jesus Christ will greet us in a loving embrace and hopefully say to us: “Well done good and faithful servant – welcome into the joy of your Lord.”
May each one of us be faithful to Jesus and His Church so that on that day of our death, we will hear those words: “well done good and faithful servant” and we will see the Living God face-to-face.