I have stood at thousands of open graves waiting to conduct the burial rites for someone who has died. Each time I stand peering down into that deep, open space, I know there is only one reason why it is not just a big, gaping hole. It is my belief in the promise of eternal life. It is belief in this promise that makes the grave a sign of hope rather than just a place to put the body of someone who has died.
Jesus gives the promise of eternal life to Martha and Mary who are grieving over the death of their brother, Lazarus. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:1-45). Jesus’ promise of eternal life means that death is not the end of things. For disciples of Jesus, the promise of eternal life means that we have the life of God now to heal, strengthen and inspire us.
Sometimes it is hard to see signs of eternal life. Martha and Mary were distraught over their brother’s death. Jesus wept in grief over the death of his friend Lazarus. Life is difficult. It is the promise of eternal life that sets the context and provides the reason for hope in the midst life’s challenges. Jesus did not say to Martha and Mary, “Sorry, that’s it, death is the end of the line for your brother.” Promising eternal life he said, “Lazarus, Come out!” At that moment, Lazarus came out of the tomb and was set free to walk with new life.
Lent is the time for us to name where we might need to let Jesus bring us out of the tombs of fear, discouragement, anxiety or doubt. Or the tombs of bitterness, resentment, cynicism or fatalism. What good qualities or talents might have gone dormant in us that it is time to let live again. Remember that old enthusiasm, sense of humor, light-heartedness you used to have? Well, it is still there, it just needs to be set free by the Lord’s eternal life. Belief in the promise of eternal life changes everything. It is the difference between seeing a grave as a gaping hole or a sign of hope. Or seeing the tombs of our lives as final stops or temporary set-backs that we can leave with God’s grace. The promise of eternal life changes everything.
Together in faith,
Very Rev. Christopher Smith, Rector