I was privileged to be present at the bedside of both my father and mother as they died. In both cases, I watched life pass slowly out of the body, breath by breath. Each death was a moment to confront my faith in resurrection. Of course, I was too caught up in emotions to think a lot about my faith. Faith was present, of course, but I would need time to grieve first. Later, as I preached at their funerals, I was able to say some things about our faith in the resurrection. My words were meant for myself, as much as for those in attendance. The experience of death is the ultimate test, the ultimate confrontation with our faith.
This Sunday at Mass, we read the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John, the last of three Gospels used in connection with our baptismal rituals. Candidates for Baptism stand before the congregation to confront their own growing faith. They are to scrutinize their lives to see how sin might be keeping them bound up. The image of Lazarus in the story, coming out from the tomb, bound hand and foot, challenges us to face the deepest meaning of the Christian life itself.
We’re meant to look ahead to Good Friday, to the story of Jesus being lifted up on the cross in the victory over death. On Holy Saturday, standing before his tomb, we begin to understand. And on Easter morning, we witness how the Risen Jesus leaves behind the burial wrappings. Unlike Lazarus, he will never die again.
In confronting death itself, we finally face the final test of faith, and ask: What keeps me bound, head and foot? What needs to be let loose in my life? In the small dyings we face each day as well as the painful and real deaths of those close to us, and in our own death, we hear Jesus say, “Lazarus, come out!” And the command we long to hear—“Untie him and let him go!”—is the truth of our faith, that Jesus has truly set us free.
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