NOVEMBER 2, 2004, ALL SOULS- HOMILY: ROM 8:14-23; JOHN 11:17-27
I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME EVEN THOUGH HE DIES SHALL LIVE. The last miracle wrought by Jesus, in St John’s version of the gospel, is also his most significant. These words of the Lord just cited sum up the meaning of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus is the one who gives and preserves life. And so he came to be called Savior, Soter in the language of the evangelist, that is ‘he who preserves’ from sickness and harm. The Syriac translation is even more suggestive; machyana’ means literally ‘he who makes live, the one who imparts life’. Of course, our Lord’s words claim much more than the power to restore mortal life to one who has died and whose body has begun to undergo corruption. Only with his own resurrection into the glory of the Father in eternal life does the full significance of this claim of our Lord appear clearly. By his own resurrection the Lord becomes the guarantor of eternal life for all who put their faith and trust in him. Martha’s statement implies her conviction that this world and the life lived within it, is not the only one that exists. Belief in an afterlife is surely one of the most widespread of human convictions. That the human person does not simply disappear, disintegrating along with the elements that compose the body is a faith that crosses the borders of time, of religions and of culture. There have been some who deny such belief, just as there are some who deny God’s existence. But even they display by certain indications that the aspiration for survival of the person in one form or other give a certain purpose to their life. Some years ago I was struck by an event reported at the funeral of the wife of Kosygin, a head of atheistic Communist Russia at the time. As he stood at the graveside he took a branch of evergreen and cast it into the open grave as a kind of prayer, an act of hope even of faith that she still lived on. However, increasingly in our times belief in the immortality of the human person is explicitly rejected. Certain scientists claim that they can account for consciousness and the other phenomena traditionally ascribed to the soul. ‘This life is all that humans have so treat it as something precious. Make the best of this world and the life you enjoy today’ one of them recently wrote, as if the issue is clear and decided now. What message does such recommendation have for those many thousands of persons living in misery, sickness, homeless, friendless and without hope in this world? It is a mockery to tell such persons that this life is a wonderful gift, enjoy it while you live.
There can never be scientific proof that the soul exists or that it does not. That is a matter of faith. Those whose faith is in science and reason will never find proof for or against belief in the life that Jesus opens to us in his resurrection. They are looking in the wrong place. Aristotle had already stated the case with characteristic penetration: “It is an indication of a want of education to fail to know what to seek proof for and what proof should not be sought.” (Metaphysics IV.iv.2)
And so, as St John tells us, before performing this miraculous act, Jesus elicits from Martha an avowal of her faith in his person, which is a condition for reception of the gift he imparts. ‘Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God come into this world.’ Martha’s statement implies her conviction that this world and the life lived within it, is not the only one that exists. Though she had no clear concept of just what such a life might be, she had no doubt that Jesus was the Savior who could overcome death itself. Now that the Lord has risen our knowledge of the future life is decidedly more clear in its general features. We know that it consists in knowing and loving the Father, living in the Spirit, united with the risen Christ. But just what specific forms this entails is beyond our understanding and imagining. We are content, as was Martha and as were the apostles after the resurrection, to believe in Jesus who gives life to us, to our loved ones and to all whose faith and hope is in him as the Savior. Our hope for those we are now united with and for those we have loved in this life is founded on him alone. We accept his claim and pray that we might live faithful to him who assures us as he reassured Martha with his immortal words: I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME EVEN THOUGH HE DIES SHALL LIVE. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. And may that same light shine within our heart for we place our hope and our faith in you, O giver of life to those who trust in your name.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
Return to Index.
Go to Archive.