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Lent reflection Cover Image

The raising of Lazarus (ii), John 11:17-27

26th Mar 2019

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (NRSV)

 Lazarus ii

 

So many of the funerals that I have led began with these words: ‘I am the resurrection and the life, says the lord, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live’. This sets the scene for every Christian funeral, even when we cannot vouch for the faith of the deceased. It is a statement of hope, sincere hope that God who knows each one of us desires that everyone will not fully die, but live again. Hope is at the centre of our faith and such an important part of Christian discipleship. It is on a par with faith and only a little less significant than love, at least as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

To begin with there does not seem much hope in the passage we consider today. It is a distressing scene, perhaps made all the more so because Jesus seemed to have delayed his arrival, as described earlier in the chapter. Martha came to meet him outside of the village, and her greeting of Jesus could be seen as slightly critical: had he been there her brother would not have died. Perhaps she is even a little angry, not necessarily with Jesus, but because of her grief. We all know how emotions can be raw at such a time. She quickly follows up any criticism with a plea. She cannot be asking for Lazarus to be raised there and then, but hopes that Jesus will do something. There is powerful symbolism in the story as it unfolds, foreshadowing the great event of Easter Day, but at this stage Martha has to be content with a Jesus who has turned up late, a brother who is dead in his tomb, and an uncertain future for the two sisters. Yet, she remains hopeful that Jesus can at least provide comfort.

This is the middle of three readings on the raising of Lazarus. We are still in suspense as to what will happen because as yet Jesus has not approached the tomb to call Lazarus forth. This may be where we find ourselves in life, without a resolution to difficulties or things that need to change. We may be facing important questions, without as yet definite answers. Life for all of us can be like this from time to time.

Martha is surrounded by people who were set on mourning for Lazarus, but all they could offer was consolation. Martha already has more than this, for her faith is in Jesus in whom she has put all her trust. Martha provides the example of hope in faith, trusting without even knowing what Jesus will do. This is a reminder of the need for hope in every situation, particularly when the way forward is uncertain or bleak. It is a hope that defies death itself and which is centred on Jesus because of who he is and the love he has for all of us.

Revd Dr John Tomlinson, St John's Director of Studies