"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

A Matter of Life and Death

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The Jewish Cemetery – Mount of Olives

(John 11:1-45) The Jewish Cemetery in Jerusalem is perched on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Kidron Valley and the Temple Mount. For centuries it has been considered the holiest burial place for people of the Jewish faith – the place where the Resurrection will begin when the Messiah comes. Today, it is a maze of more than 150,000 hillside tombs.

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The Golden Gate – Jerusalem

According to Jewish tradition, on the Day of the Resurrection, the trumpets will sound and the Last Judgment will take place in the Kidron valley.1 The Messiah will come to earth, riding on a white donkey, and the dead will rise from their graves. The Messiah will enter the Temple Mount through the Golden Gate, whose doors have been sealed since the 16th century in anticipation of the Messiah’s glorious return. All of the resurrected will follow. To ensure that none of them lose their way, everyone has been buried with their feet facing that direction. All they need to do is to stand up and begin walking towards the Temple – it’s only a few hundred metres away.2

The belief in the resurrection of the dead is also central to our Catholic faith, and today Jesus challenges us to go deeper into its Christian meaning. In the Gospel of John, we read that Lazarus – a dear friend of Jesus and the brother of Mary and Martha – has died. By the time Jesus arrives at their home in Bethany, Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days. Jesus assures Martha that Lazarus will rise again, and she agrees, saying that she is certain that he will rise again on the last day (cf. Jn 11:24). But this is not what Jesus is talking about.

Jesus calls Martha to a deeper understanding, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25). In answer, Martha affirms, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27).

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The entrance to the Tomb of Lazarus as it looks today

In response to Martha’s amazing act of faith, Jesus performs one of His greatest miracles – raising Lazarus from the dead. The miracle strengthened the faith of His disciples and led many to believe in Him, but it also hardened the resolve of the Pharisees who wanted to find a way to kill Him (cf. Jn 11:15, 53). Slowly, inexorably, Jesus was drawing closer to the time of His own Death and Resurrection.3

Belief in the Resurrection of our Lord is a condition of our Catholic faith. For if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith is futile and we are still in a state of sin (1 Cor 15:17). In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:13-14). But because we know that Christ has risen from the dead, we are assured that we, too, shall rise again on the last day. The Death and Resurrection of Christ is our reason for hope and the cause of our joy. The promise is certain: if we have died with Christ, then we shall also live with Him (Rom 6:8). St. Paul writes, “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess 4:14).

Our belief in the Resurrection allows us to see beyond the Cross – to live in this world with our eyes fixed on what is lasting and eternal. We aren’t obsessed with finding joy in this life, because we know that something much better is yet to come.4 Faith in the power of God helps us to detach from the things of the world, for we know that some day everything will pass away. All that will remain is the Word of God – and His promise that one day we shall live with Him in eternity (cf. Mt 24:35).

– Sharon van der Sloot

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:21

1 Although the Pharisees of Jesus’ time believed in the resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees did not. The reason for their objection is that the resurrection is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Nevertheless, the Pharisees thought that the concept of the resurrection was implied in certain verses. (See “Olam Ha-ba: The Afterlife,” Judaism 101; available from http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm#Resurrection; Internet; accessed 31 March 2014.)

2 Cf. Rick Westhead, “Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives cemetery running out of room,” The Toronto Star [on-line newspaper], Dec. 16, 2012; available from http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2012/12/16/jerusalems_mount_of_olives_cemetery_running_out_of_room.html; Internet; accessed 31 March 2014. The Golden Gate is believed to be the gate used by Jesus when He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the day we now celebrate as Palm Sunday.

3 Although the resurrection of Lazarus foreshadowed the coming death and Resurrection of Jesus, it is distinguished from it in an important way. Like Jesus, Lazarus was raised from the dead. However, he still had to die again at the end of his natural life. After Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, He never needed to die again. He rose to eternal life and is now seated at the right hand of God, “the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20).

4 Cf. Fr. Robert Barron, “Lent Day 26 – How Should the Resurrection Shape Our Everyday Lives,” Word on Fire; available from http://www.lentreflections.com/how-should-the-resurrection-shape-our-everyday-lives/; Internet; accessed 31 March 2014.

 

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