In rising, You restored our life. When I fear death
and doubt rises in my heart, help me be at peace
in trusting God, the author of life (Heb 2:14-15).
Our time on Earth is fleeting. All of us will die eventually. That isn’t the end, though. There will be a resumption to life by the power of God in anticipation of eternity with resurrected bodies. This was a belief of ancient Israel as declared by the martyred sons and their mother in 2 Maccabees 7…
With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws” (2 Mac 7:9).
Jesus came to do the will of His Father in Heaven. He told us the Father’s will is that He not lose anything of what has been given to Him but that it should be raised on the last day (John 6:39). Of what can we be afraid when we have the promises of God? When Jesus called forth Lazarus from his tomb, He showed Himself to be the author of life and the conqueror of death. Martha recognized this in Him even before He called Lazarus…
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (John 11:21-27).
As mortal beings, we naturally fear death. Dying can be a very painful process… and then what? Even for Christians, there is a great mystery as to what lies beyond the grave (2 Cor 2:9). Heaven has been described as a place without mourning and tears (Rev 21:4), a kingdom (Matt 19:14), a better city and country (Heb 11:16), endless light (Rev 22:1-5), inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), home (John 14:2-4), and paradise (Luke 23:43). We are promised resurrection to glorious bodies (Phil 3:21) and eternal life (Matt 25:46). We count our sufferings as nothing while we wait in hope and trust in the promises of our Lord (Rom 8:18).
Although we can trust in the promises of God, that doesn’t mean we understand His ways. When Jesus received word of Lazarus’s pending demise, He didn’t immediately set out. He said the situation would not end in death… but He allowed death to occur for the glory of God. I can imagine the great confusion among His disciples when Jesus told them that Lazarus had already died before they had even gotten underway! God’s ways are not our ways. In all of our trials and tribulations, not seeing a way through doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a plan for us. If we pray, “Thy will be done…” we may find ourselves on great adventures that we may never fully understand (Prov 3:5-6). Just so, His disciples protested returning to Judea because of the wrath of the Jews.
Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (John 11:7-10).
If I may be allowed a moment’s frivolous reflection, Thomas always strikes me as the Klingon in the group. He could be seen as a pessimist, a realist, or an optimist in difficult situations. When Jesus says it’s time to go, Thomas said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16). I hear the voice of Lt Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation getting ready for battle saying, “Today is a good day to die!” It’s expressing a very similar sentiment. But that’s just a random thought I probably should have kept to myself…
Jesus is the light of the world. Just as the Sun shines for its appointed time, so did the Son of God come to be the light of the world for His appointed time. No one puts out the Sun—it sets of its own accord. Just so, Jesus’s life isn’t threatened by any earthly power. Jesus won’t die because of angry mobs and public sentiment. Darkness will have its hour at the time appointed by God. Resurrecting Lazarus solidified His identity as Messiah as many came to believe in Him. It also solidified the resolve of the Sanhedrin to do away with Him. In both, He is glorified as He shows the power and authority of God and anticipates the sacrificial offering in the divine plan of salvation.
The Resurrection of Jesus opened the door to our own future resurrection (CCC 655). The resurrection will be a universal event for all humanity (Matt 25:31-32) but all who rise are not destined for Heaven. Some have chosen eternal punishment (Matt 25:41-46 & Rev 21:8) in their unbelief and debauchery. This is the choice of free will. We choose to live for Heaven by working in the vineyards of the Lord or turn our backs on the generosity of God. We are offered the blessing or the curse and are free to choose. It is not a free choice if there are no consequences in the decision.
Those who trust in God live this life for the next and see death as another step toward Him (CCC 1020). The only treasure we find in Heaven is that which has been prepared for us by God. It isn’t ours except that our Heavenly Father gives it to us. And what does He give us? Himself. We shall be like Him (1 John 3:2). The lie of the devil is laid bare. We can’t be gods deciding what is good and what is evil apart from the one, true God. He destined us for union with Him. We trust in His generosity.
Those who resist God make a mockery of life to their own damnation. They see death as an emptiness to be avoided and build great palaces to themselves in this world… only to be turned to dust and forgotten by history. There is nothing we can hold that we can carry with us from this world. Those who hold tightly to the things of this world will find nothing awaiting them but a second death (Rev 20:14).
Ironically, those who seek “the good life” find that holding on to this world takes great effort. Whatever they give themselves over to enslaves them (Gal 5:13). The jealousy and avarice come with a vigilance and dedication that is all-consuming and corrupting. It’s a selfish focus that sees the self as the center of the universe. In this centrality, men are driven insane as they struggle to hold their empires intact and bear the weight of the world on their shoulders. All who oppose them must be eliminated. In reality, the world will continue when they are gone and their empires will be scattered. It’s all vanity.
Our Lord breaks the shackles of slavery to sin (Gal 5:1). He offers freedom from the burdens the world places on us. In this freedom, we turn our gaze outward from ourselves—from selfishness to love—loving God and our neighbor (1 Peter 2:16). The man who trusts in God does not feel the need to bear the burdens of the world. He is free to be who God created Him to be… a child in faith. He welcomes his brothers and sisters and delights in sharing the bounties given by His loving, and generous God. He is not threatened by any earthly power or consideration. He knows peace and joy.
Fear pulls us away from God while love unites us with Him. The devil knows this and first sows doubt. In doubt, we fear. Fear turns our virtues to vices. Fear turns our perspective inward in selfishness. Fear makes us jealous and envious. Fear makes us hold on to what we see as ours. In fear, we embrace lies that reinforce our warped perceptions and we lose hope. In love, we trust. Loving God and our neighbor is living virtuously. Love turns our perspective outward in service. Love makes us trusting and generous. Love gives us freedom to share. In love, we embrace truth that challenges us to grow and we hope in the promises of God.
In love, we find true life as a gift from the author of life who formed man from the dust of the earth and is Love-personified. He gave us a free will that we might use it in love for Him and one another. True freedom comes from trusting in His promises and letting go of all that keeps us from following Him. In dying, He destroyed our death. In rising, He restored our life (Heb 5:9). Lord Jesus, I await in joyful hope for Your coming in glory when Your people will be resurrected for eternal life with You.