The raising of Lazarus (iii), John 11:28-44
27th Mar 2019
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!’