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Lent reflection Cover Image

The raising of Lazarus (iii), John 11:28-44

27th Mar 2019

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When 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.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 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.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 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.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.” (NRSV)

I find among these verses some of the most intimate and tender voices in scripture. The process of grieving is one that Jesus seems to have a knack of disrupting (Luke 7:11-17, Mark 5:35-43). Yet here, Jesus takes the gentlest of approaches as He follows the Father’s lead and timings (11:4-7&14).

Martha has just professed Jesus to be The Messiah, the anointed one; and on this occasion, uniquely I think, Jesus doesn’t defer to His Son of Man descriptor. Maybe the need for Martha to hold onto the vision of Messiah was important for what was to come.

Again, Jesus waits (v30), outside the village. It’s a final act of preparation. He knows the purpose of these events (11:4) but still faith is tested, and it almost seems that Jesus needs to check-in with the sisters, privately, before entering the grieving community. Human emotion can often stifle faith and we see Jesus take a similar practical approach in dealing with this dynamic when raising Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:40).

But with Mary’s arrival Jesus crumbles. The cross currents of emotion, purpose and wills move the heart of Jesus and lift him from the moorings of faith and into the swell of the grieving family’s loss. We hear our own voice in Mary’s..... ‘Lord, if only you had been here... then they wouldn’t have died / got sick / lost their job / been arrested....’ The list goes on. Yet the one who called the Cosmos into being was present, initially for Mary and Martha (and for us, probably) not in body, but certainly in Spirit. Jesus knew how the crisis had developed and the set of events that would be recounted to him by the sisters, with the currency of a Twitter feed.    

But the ramparts of faith were still to take their final battering; the grave had to be faced, full on. And, with the waves of emotion that so typically depicts grief (vs 35 & 38) Jesus again sobs. ‘See how he loved him’.

This scriptural record of love, in the context of a male / male friendship has a special meaning for me as a gay man; not in the (perhaps) obvious sense, but because within the gay community (and maybe within the wider ‘singles’ community) the gift of close friendships is highly prized. Friendships which outlast and sometimes outshine, life partners we may have been blessed with. Here we see that ‘perfect love all human thought transcending’, as Dorothy Gurney writes, bringing Jesus face to face with the stinking tomb.

We know little of this family’s circumstances, except that now, with the untimely death of the man of the house, it faced an uncertain future. Maintaining the status quo (minus Lazarus) was not an option.  

While God’s glory is sometimes revealed through ‘the way of the cross’, this was not to be the case here; and the logos that spoke life to the cosmos called Lazarus. John Wimber said that if Jesus hadn’t said ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ the whole cemetery would have emptied!

Yet the Logos still calls us to work with him; removing the ‘grave clothes’ of those He calls to ‘Come forth!’

Dave Shaw, MCYM student