5th Sunday of Lent 2012:
Today we hear of the raising of Lazarus. We see the fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel: Jesus is opening the graves of the dead and calling Lazarus to come out. This reading is one of the more popular readings for funeral masses. Whenever I die, this is the reading I want read at the funeral. This story has an amazing way of capturing the human experience with death. We can all sympathize with the sisters: Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died. This captures well the pain and anguish that we go through when we encounter the death of someone we love: God why did you let this happen? But, Martha follows it with a wonderful statement of faith: I know my brother will rise on the last day. This is a perfect summary of our faith in Christ. We know that Christ has power over death. We know that through his own death and resurrection, Christ has set us free. We know that all those who believe in him will never die. This is our faith. So while we might question why God would allow suffering and death, our faith fills us with hope, not only for our deceased loved ones, but for ourselves as well. And who cannot help but be moved by hearing about our Savior weeping with the family. I find this to be a powerful consolation in difficult times. Christ is right there with us. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but he is not distant or aloof. Rather, Christ is right beside us in good times and in bad times.
So for all these reasons, this gospel makes a wonderful reading at funerals. But, today we read this in a different context. Today we will celebrate the 3rd rite of scrutiny for our elect. I find it interesting that the Church has given us this reading for those about to be baptized. First, it is important to see in Jesus the one who has power over death. All of the catechumen should see in Jesus our savior, the one who can give us eternal life. Surely, this is an important reason as to why they are coming to baptism. But, I want us to think a bit about Lazarus. We see that Lazarus dies, is called out by Jesus, and then lives again. I cannot help but see this as a symbol for baptism. Even since the time of St. Paul, baptism is seen as a little death. If we have died with Christ, we shall live with Christ. Just as Lazarus was buried in the tomb, our catechumens will be buried in the tomb of baptism. Then, when they are washed free of their sins, Christ will call them forward from the tomb. He will order the burial clothes of their old way of life removed, and Jesus will set these catechumens free to live a new kind of life.
Of course, those of us who are baptized already should see ourselves as having died to our former way of life. We have been freed by our Savior. We are dead to sin, and alive in Christ.