Those who know me well know that John 11 is one of my all time favorite passages in the Bible. I first became familiar with it during a deeply painful time in my life in which death felt as if it was encroaching—both within my heart and on the life I had built for myself—and I felt powerless against its relentless drive.
Coming across this passage proved vital to turning the tide for me, however, because suddenly it re-injected hope in my heart and gave me the sense that no matter how pervasive the darkness I was experiencing in that moment, no matter how deep the wounds or how apparently impossible it seemed for my life to ever be made whole again, ultimately none of these things would have the final say. Jesus’ cryptic words to the disciples just kept echoing over and over again in my heart, “This illness will not end in death” to the extent that my own version of it became almost like a mantra (and sometimes even like a war cry) in those moments when only bald determination to hope in God would save me from falling headlong into despair:
This brokenness will not end in death. These feelings of abandonment and seemingly unbearable loss will not end in death.
Holding on to this hope in the midst of darkness did not, of course, ward off the pain or protect me from experiencing the death that would inevitably come. It was not long before my deepest fears were realized and my life did, in fact, fall apart. Death came, much like it did for Lazarus and it was considerably worse than I had feared. Death came, and there were times that it felt as if it had completely ravaged my heart and life, leaving me with almost nothing on which I could rebuild my life.
Death came, but it did not have the final say.
This is the beautiful truth that we began celebrating yesterday and continue to celebrate all this week: that, in Christ, death does not have the final say because it has been finally conquered through His suffering, death and resurrection.
“I AM the Resurrection and the life,” Jesus says, “he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” This is not just a symbolic truth with abstract implications for our lives. It is a historical reality that literally changes everything. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, if there is no resurrection from the dead, then Jesus was not raised on the third day and we, Christians, are the most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:12-19).
But he was raised from the dead and this truth has become the source of our deepest hope: that no matter how great the darkness, death will not have the final say. As soon-to-be St. John Paul II often to reminds us, in a world in which death is so prevalent and at times unbelievably powerful, we are called to be Easter people—those who hold on to the hope of the resurrection and become beacons of that same hope to the world around us.
This does not mean, of course, that we are to steel ourselves in the face of death as if we were not bothered by it or its effects. One of the reasons why I love John 11 so much is that it validates our own experience of grief and pain in the face of death by giving us one the most beautiful insights into Our Lord’s heart while at the tomb of Lazarus. Notice how even though he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead only moments later, Jesus did not offer this information as solace to the sisters or the mourners there as if this knowledge would suddenly take away their pain. Rather, he wept. He poured out his heart in tears at the death of this one he loved and at the pain of those mourning that death.
To be Easter people does not mean to wave around the truth of the resurrection as if it suddenly renders death in all its forms painless or meaningless. We hold on in hope for the time that is has promised in which there will be no more death or crying or pain, and all things will be made new (Rev 21:4), but we are not there yet.
Rather, to be Easter people means to follow our Lord’s example of compassion by weeping with those who weep, mourning with those who mourn, all the while holding on in certain hope to the promise that, in Christ, death does not have the final say. Life does. Love does.
In the words of James Martin, S.J. the Resurrection is a reminder “not just that Jesus rose from the dead but that love is stronger than hatred, that hope is stronger than despair, and that life is stronger than death. More simply, it reminds us that nothing is impossible with God.”
To be Easter people is be instruments of that hope to the world around us, for it is this hope for which we so desperately long; and we trust that those who hope in the Lord will not be disappointed (Isa 49:23).
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author, editor and speaker.