Benjamin Franklin wrote that ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. Death appears to be a fact, as solid and bleak as the stone that closed the tomb of Lazarus. But our readings this weekend lead us to question the finality of death. In the first reading, God promises to raise his people from their graves, making them alive with his Spirit. In the Gospel, Jesus waits until his friend Lazarus is undeniably dead and buried, then demands that the stone be rolled away and calls Lazarus forth from the tomb. In Holy Week we will celebrate the central truth of our faith when we affirm that Jesus really did die, but then he rose again and he really is alive now.
We go further and say that the same is true for all who have died in Christ: our dead loved ones, though we grieve for them as Jesus wept for Lazarus, are not dead, but alive with God for ever.
Then we take one more step: because Jesus is the resurrection and the life we say, with St Paul, that his Spirit is living in us now, even before we die. We can taste, here on earth, the everlasting life of heaven. This makes us live in a new way. It changes our outlook on life and death. We begin to see the difference between real life and what passes for living.
Pope Francis asks us to reflect on the culture in which we live and to recognise what is good and what is harmful, what builds up life and what leads to death. He warns that a global economy of exclusion and inequality kills. He says that the culture of prosperity deadens us, that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality damages the fabric of society. He points to the individualism and selfishness that is weakening the bonds of family life. But he is not a pessimist: he calls us to cherish what is good and life-giving, to weep with those who suffer and to take action against everything that diminishes life.
He calls us to be confident that Jesus has won the victory over sin and death and that we are alive with his life. Wherever we hear, in our own experience or the experience of others, the rattle of the chains of death, we can put our trust in the words with which Jesus called Lazarus back to life: ‘Unbind him, let him go free’.