Is death the end to everything?

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Nothing in life is more certain than death. Yet, many people ask, "After death, what?" Why the question in the first place? Perhaps because death is the end of our plans and aspirations in life. Perhaps because of the thought of permanent separation from our loved ones. Perhaps because of the uncertainty about what lies beyond. Or perhaps because we just can not accept the incontrovertible signs of our mortality, namely, sickness, pain and deterioration -- physically, emotionally and psychologically.

We can learn many lessons about death from the gospel reading (Jn. 11:1-45) which talks about the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus did this for two reasons.

First, because Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, were Jesus' friends: He stayed with them and when in Bethany. One day, when Lazarus was sick, the sisters sent a message to Jesus: "Master, the one you love is ill." This was not only a simple message; it was also a prayer. For between true friends, no instructions are needed. All that is needed is for one to let the other know his/her situation so he can respond to it the best way he can. Neither does friendship impose; it trusts. That is how it was between Jesus and Lazarus and his sisters. That is how it should be between us and God.

Second, Jesus, after being informed of Lazarus' illness, delayed His coming. This delay was essential to the story, so "that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Thus, though Lazarus was already in the tomb for four days when Jesus arrived, this did not mean that it was too late for Him to make Himself the life of Lazarus. In the same manner, when we make ours Martha's message and prayer to Jesus, namely, "Master, the one you love is ill," we should leave it up to Him to determine what to do and when. For when He acts, it is only for one reason - "for the glory of God." Thus the need for proper disposition and patience on our part.

Let us now focus on the conversation that transpired between Martha and draw lessons from them.

On His arrival, Martha met Jesus, saying, "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." Do we not detect in these words a friend's hint to the other to do something for her brother? Jesus response: "Your brother will rise again." To which Martha replied, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

Martha's response gave Jesus the opening to reveal for the first time that He was "the resurrection and the life." When Martha expressed her belief in the resurrection earlier, she did not say anything new nor startling. Ordinary Jews believed in the resurrection at the end of time. What was startling was Jesus' new revelation: "I am the resurrection and the life." And He meant here and now. He proved this by raising Lazarus from the dead there and then.

Aside from physical death, believing in the resurrection also means to "die" to our selves and live for Jesus, that is, to ground ourselves in Jesus. A bride or groom must "die" to her´his independence to form a family. A mother must "die" to give life to her baby. A father must "die" to his many personal interests so he can work hard and give life to his family. A student must "die" to his easy-go-lucky ways so he can do well in his studies.

In the same manner, we must "die" to our envy, anger and hatred so we can live in peace and harmony with one another and God. Finally, we must "die" to ourselves by sharing ourselves to others -- our time, talent and treasures -- especially to those in need so they can rise from their many "deaths" -- their poverty, privations, sufferings and hopelessness.

As followers of Jesus, we believe in the resurrection of the dead; that death is not the end of everything. Rather, it is just a passage into eternal life and that the life hereafter is only a continuation of this life. But this life after death could be ours only on one condition, namely, to believe in Jesus: "He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."

Jesus as our Life and Resurrection gives meaning to our pains, trials and even death. When we accept all these in faith and love, then our many other deaths acquire a special meaning. For when we center our life in Jesus, when we begin to die to our selfishness and live for others, then Jesus will be glorified in us. This is what it means to rise in glory with Him even now.

During the season of Lent, the Church invites us to die to ourselves -- the only way for Jesus to become our Life and Resurrection. Then our resurrection from our many other deaths will not come as a surprise when Easter comes.