There is a particularly moving scene in the third Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, that came into my mind when I was preparing for this weekend. Gandalf, the wizard, and Pippin, the hobbit, are trapped in the city of Minas Tirith. There is an enemy army beating at the gate, not many of the city's soldiers are left to fight, and there seems to be no hope for these two characters.
Pippin says, "I didn't think it would end this way." Gandalf replies, "End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it."
"What? Gandalf? See what?," Pippin asks, and Gandalf answers: "White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise."
It's a beautiful exchange and it strikes me every time I've seen it - and it has been many times! Pippin is afraid of death; Gandalf comforts him by saying, "death is not the end." Then they prepare to fight what may be their last battle.
Our readings today give us the same message: though we will suffer in the world, and we can't escape death, there is hope. It's a hope that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ.
Our first reading, from the book of Wisdom, tells us that death is not God's creation. The whole of creation is inherently good and God made humanity to share in his eternal life, "but by the envy of the devil, death entered the world."
Sin, starting with the sin of Adam and Eve and going all the way to us today, is the cause of our separation from the life of God - and there is nothing we can do to change that. But Jesus can.
Our gospel reading features two people with profound faith.
First, we meet Jairus, the synagogue official who comes to Jesus because his daughter is at the point of death. He asks Jesus, "come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live." We'll return to him in a moment.
One the way to Jairus' house, Jesus encounters the hemorrhaging woman. She had been suffering with this bleeding for 12 years and everything she had done to fix it had only made it worse. She has complete faith, however, that Jesus could help her. She touches his cloak and is immediately healed.
When Jesus finds out who had touched him, he tells her, "your faith has saved you." It wasn't some kind of magic, it was faith in the person of Jesus. She believed that he could heal her.
After this encounter, Jesus hears that Jairus' daughter has already died. Rather than apologizing to Jairus that he was too late, he tells Jairus, "Do not be afraid; just have faith." and they continue on to his home. Jesus ignores the people who mock him when he arrives. He goes in and says, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!" And she does.
Jesus performs many miracles in the gospels. These two events show something important about his ministry. Neither of the miracles were done to gain a big crowd of followers; they happened because someone had faith. The woman believed Jesus could heal her; Jairus believed Jesus could save his daughter. It was that faith that allowed Jesus to enter into these moments of suffering and even death and bring new life.
What does this have to do with us today?
We live in a complicated, broken, and sometimes discouraging world.
People suffer and die everyday - and not just because of disease or natural disasters, but at the hands of other people. Christians, our brothers and sisters, are being killed because of what they believe in.
Our culture is rapidly changing in many ways. Family, the foundation of civilization, is being attacked on many fronts - and I'm not only talking about the legalization of same-sex marriage. There is also the widespread evil of pornography; the lack of family life; people abandoning any sort of faith life because it does not fit into their schedules.
It is so easy to be discouraged - for me too! How do we go on in a world like this?
It is only with faith in Jesus.
I'm not talking about some kind of abstract "sure, I believe in God - I go to church, don't I?" faith. The only thing that will carry us through the struggles of this world and our fear of suffering and death is a real, living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I can tell you what I've told you many times before, that we do this through the sacraments, through prayer, and through service to others. Those are the sources of life that we cling to as Catholics.
But today, I think we all need to hear the message of this gospel story: Jesus can walk into our despair, chaos, and even death, and say to us, "arise!" No one and nothing else can do that - no political body, no movement, no leader, not even our best intentions. Only Jesus can save us from the death of sin, so we must constantly turn back to him.
Let go of anything that holds you back. Jesus is the only way.
When we come to the end of our life, what will matter is our relationship with him.