Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.
And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:1-45)
In today’s Gospel from John, our story ends after Lazarus has been resurrected; John writes nothing about how Lazarus might have felt about coming back to life. We can assume that Mary and Martha were overjoyed that their dear brother was alive again. And we never hear another thing about Lazarus again. We don’t know when he left his body for eternity.
The poet, William Butler Yeats, speculates on Lazarus’ feeling in his short work call Calvary. Lazarus tells his friend Jesus,
- “I had been dead and I was lying still, in an old comfortable mountain cavern, when you came climbing there with a great crows and dragged me to light”.
While most of us do not have experiences of coming back to life after dying, many of us have experienced coming back to life from the depths of depression of grief, from the agony of pain, or from the challenges of addiction. While others may be thrilled that we are back, the return to life can be hard and uncomfortable. We may feel uncertain, perhaps afraid of what our life will be like now. We may even yearn for a return to the familiar even if that recent past was painful. Yet, we cannot return to our old life because we have been indelibly changed by what we have experienced.
The story of Lazarus reminds us, however, that we are not alone when we get our life back. We have the community of those who love us, and we have the love of Jesus who experienced the ultimate return to life in His resurrection from a brutal death. Jesus invites us to new life when he says
Come out, (Luke 11:43)
Jesus calls to us to come out and walk with Him. Walk with Him into his passion, death and resurrection.
We must leave behind what is comfortable and familiar and enter into the unknown depths of life renewed and re-born.
As we approach the beginning of Holy Week, let us think about the sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us. Let us think about our lives and prepare for His ultimate gift of death, resurrection and salvation.
Are we ready?
Attributed to Courtnie Reid, Director of Operations, Diocese of Chicago; Renew a Right Spirit Within Me, Living Compass, 2014
Delivered at In The Garden Community Ministry, Trinity Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH 6 April 2014