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Life through Jesus’ death

Kate Barrett | Thursday, March 30, 2006

Have you ever thought about how strange it was that Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb just before he raised Lazarus from the dead? OK, maybe you haven’t, but think about it. The raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45) is this Sunday’s gospel, so you’ll have another chance this weekend too. Hadn’t Jesus sort of already planned to bring Lazarus back to life? Why, when he saw Mary and Martha and the others in tears, did he not right away reassure them that he could take care of their beloved Lazarus? Well, the gospel never tells us, but perhaps as part of our prayer this week we might wonder about that. Could Jesus have been looking ahead with apprehension toward his own death? Were his tears for all the other deaths that take place somewhere every day?

The readings for our upcoming liturgies seem to push us to think more and more about death in these remaining days and weeks of Lent. We are to prepare ourselves for what we call the Paschal Mystery of Christ – the events surrounding his passion, death and resurrection. And although we have the gift of knowing that Easter comes, imagine the grief of Mary and of Jesus’ disciples and friends on that first Good Friday, knowing only death, not remembering or comprehending Jesus’ predictions that he would rise again. Even God the Father must have felt overwhelming sorrow; after all, no matter that Jesus would rise from the dead on Sunday, he was really, truly and absolutely dead on Friday and Saturday. The author Michael Dubruiel writes in his excellent book “The Power of the Cross,” “The darkness that covered the earth on that first Good Friday points, I believe, to the grief of God at the death of his Son. Though Jesus would rise on the third day, the first day was one of horror, pain and utter grief for all creation.”

We have each experienced death in some way or another in our lives, whether through the death of someone we loved deeply and intimately, or the deaths of large groups of people though natural disaster, acts of terror or war or some other instance of the loss of a loved one or acquaintance. We ought perhaps to reflect on these losses during this last part of Lent, not in some kind of morbid fascination, but as a way to treasure and appreciate the saving death of Christ which we’ll celebrate soon. Every hope that death extinguishes, every loss that death brings to the forefront of our minds and hearts, every moment of overwhelming grief we feel we cannot escape, all are restored and brought to newness of life by Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross.

In our culture, we spend a lot of time (and money) trying to avoid getting older, or at least looking older. Old age reminds us of the inevitability of death. We know well, however, that death can occur at any age and at any time. What we tend to call “untimely” deaths come to college students, young parents, middle-aged people and to unborn and infant babies. Perhaps a greater attention to death will bring us not only a renewed gratitude for Christ’s painful, humiliating and “untimely” death, but also a deeper awareness of the short and fragile nature of our own lives and those of the people we care about. It’s something to think about whenever we’re making choices about how to spend the gift of time that God has given us. Do I use my time on myself or others? Does most of my time go towards building up myself, either professionally or personally, or towards others who need my love, attention or help? How much do I focus, during my time on earth, on building up God’s kingdom?

Reflection on and prayer about death can be a way to clarify how we want to live life, and a reminder that every present moment and every hope we have for the future is a gift from God. The person of Jesus, once dead, is alive and in our midst; he is very real, and ready to change our lives if we but welcome him in.

Kate Barrett is the director of resources and special projects for Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.