This Sunday at Mass we heard the Gospel of the Raising of Lazarus. It is a story that is familiar to us all, I'm sure.
At first it might seem strange that the Church puts this Gospel before us as we enter into Passiontide. Our thoughts are naturally looking towards the cross and Good Friday, yet the Church calls us to look beyond those events to the resurrection.
'I am the resurrection and the life says the Lord.
He that believes in me, yet though he die shall live
and whosoever believes in me will never die.'
I have recited, prayed and preached on those words of the Lord many times in my priestly ministry, usually at funerals. It is understandable why these words from St John's Gospel should be chosen for a funeral. There is the link between life and death played out before us. The death of our loved ones and the resurrection of the dead. They are words of consolation for us in times of grief.
However sometimes they are chosen and the that faith link between life, death and resurrection is very weak. In more recent times I have seen a trend at funerals that focuses too much on the achievements and personality of the person who has died. Indeed we are asked to have a 'celebration of the life of.....'
Celebrating a person's life and giving thanks to God for all the blessings that God has bestowed on us through that person is something that should be valued, but not to the exclusion of everything else.
In some 'celebrations of life' there is no reference to the afterlife - eternal life with the Risen Lord. The life is celebrated because that is the end of everything. The mortal remains are buried or cremated and that is it. That may be the view of secular society but it is not and cannot be the way that Christians see it.
Yes our natural earthly existence will come to an end one day. When, where and in what circumstances that will happen we do not know and have no control over. But for the Christian that is not it. We believe that our existence will continue in heaven. 'Lord for your faithful people, life is changed not ended' one of the prefaces of the funeral Mass proclaims. Our ultimate goal has to be heaven.
'I am the resurrection and the life says the Lord. He that believes in me, yet though he die shall live
and whosoever believes in me will never die.' As Jesus says to Martha (and to us) in today's Gospel:
Do you believe this?