Several years ago, I was sent as a seminarian intern at St. Patrick Parish, in Parnell. Upon my arrival, the pastor said to me, what are you most nervous about as you begin your internship? I answered, “Funerals.” “Why,” he asked. “Because death is hard, I don’t know what to say.”
Well, in my first two weeks, there were 8 funerals: three the first and five the second. So, after that second week, we sit down for dinner and he just looked at me with this tired look and says, “hey man, you nervous about anything else? You’re the grim reaper man!”
But Death is difficult isn’t it? I came across this quote from Andy Rooney. Now full disclosure, I do not know Andy Rooney. I only learned of him as I prepared for this homily. So, for those like me, this is who he was: Andy Rooney was known for his role on 60 minutes where he would spend a few minutes sharing an essay about something that wasn’t right in the world, or just something that he had been thinking about a lot lately. I think what people enjoyed in him was that he was both cranky and snarky. Eventually, he finally retired. And in one of his last essays, he said: “I have love my life. I loved being a writer. But now, every day I think about death ten or more times a day. I do not look forward to death. I had a good life. We have got to figure out this death thing” (paraphrased – not verbatim quote). After some investigating, I discovered that Andy Rooney was also an atheist. He did not believe in God, and he certainly didn’t believe in heaven. Now it makes sense. Death made him anxious. Death was for him the end. There was nothing more. So it shouldn’t surprise us to hear him say, “We have got to figure out this death thing.”
All of us here have asked our own questions. Some of us ask it when we lose a parent or grandparent, and we wonder why we had to lose someone we loved? But the question about death becomes even more difficult when we consider young people who tragically die. Or, when a young married couple loses a baby. Death makes us all uncomfortable. It makes us all sad. It makes us all worried.
And here we are in our Gospel, a story about death. Its strange what happens. People come and tell Jesus that his friend Lazarus is sick. And Jesus responds: Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Jesus just said, Lazarus is dead and he is glad that he wasn’t there. Then later, upon his arrival, Jesus learns of the death, and he we learn that he wept. Not only that, his friends Mary and Martha, are not happy with him. Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died. We can hear in these statements the underlying questions: why did Lazarus have to die? Why lord didn’t you care enough to come here quickly so that we wouldn’t die, Lord don’t you care? Lord, this is your fault!
Jesus responds to Mary and Martha and says, your brother will rise, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. This is why Jesus delayed. Jesus wanted to show his power over death. So, to convince them that he had the power to defeat death, he says to Lazarus, rise and come out!
For the moment, it is clear that Jesus loved this man. The scriptures even say it: see how he loved him. But Jesus didn’t just raise Lazarus because Jesus loved him. He raised him because of Friendship. This, my friends, is the crucial point. Jesus has a loving intimate friendship with Lazarus. One where Christ knows and loves Lazarus, and Lazarus knows and loves Jesus. It is not just Christ’s love for him, it’s the mutual love for each other. Jesus raised him because they were friends.
And this leads to the great question for us this weekend. Soon we will, before Easter arrives, we will remember Jesus’ death. And, I would bet, that just like Mary and Martha, just like Andy Rooney, just like any one of us asks when we lose a loved one, we will ask, but “why did they have to die?” Why did Christ have to die?
Friends, Lazarus died so that Jesus could raise him from the dead. Jesus died, so that he could rise from the dead. Jesus was willing to die and rise because he loves us, so that we too can die with the hope that we will rise! Brothers and sisters, we are Jesus’ friends, and he offers us the answer to death, hope in the resurrection. Why? – Because he loves us!
In Christ’s love and friendship,