Our Gospel passage this week could be subtitled: Jesus vs. Death. In raising Lazarus from the dead, our Lord shows his Godly power over life and death, but He also confronts our fear of death and conquers that as well.
Jesus deliberately takes his time before going to Bethany to help Lazarus. This allows the natural time for the people to recognize Lazarus as really and truly dead. In the words of Lazarus’ very practical sister Martha: "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." They understand death; they have seen it and smelt its effects on our passing human bodies. But there is more significance here. Jesus not only sustains life and heals wounds, He can restore life to a thoroughly dead man.
The reaction of the disciples, now expert witnesses to Jesus’ miraculous power, reveal the deeper victory of Jesus over our fear of sin and death. Knowing the danger of returning to Judea, where Jesus is now threatened with execution, Thomas expresses the fatalism of our fallen human nature: “Let us also go to die with him.” Thomas believes that they will all be killed—that death will win, because death always seems to win.
Death, however, is a consequence of sin. It is the result of cutting ourselves off from God. Human nature, separated from God, is doomed to die. Our human nature in Jesus, however, is reunited to Jesus’ Divine nature. Jesus is God and man together, both the model and means of our salvation. In Jesus, death has already lost. By his Incarnation, Jesus has reunited us with himself. By his Passion, Jesus will defeat death for good by paying the debt for our sins. By his Resurrection, Jesus will open for us the perfect unity with God that is heaven.
One final thought for your meditation this week: after being raised from the dead, Lazarus was a joyful witness to God’s power at work in Jesus. Lazarus knew firsthand that death was not the end for us. Yes, he eventually died again. I wonder, however, how Lazarus faced death this second time around. How wonderful could it be to face death without fear because you truly know the power of God in your life. And yet, is not this promise open to us all? After Baptism and a thorough Confession of our sins, are we not all gifted with that same promise of eternal life in union with God?
What joy we do have in Christ! Death has lost forever, and we are freed by the victory of Jesus Christ.