Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
Jesus at the Death of Lazarus
33 When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then 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?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Today’s reading is the third and final part of the story of the death and raising of Lazarus. In the first part of this story, Jesus got word that his friend Lazarus was seriously ill, but he stayed away until after Lazarus died. In the second part, Jesus reached Bethany and talked with Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary. He revealed himself as the embodiment of the resurrection, and promised that those who follow him will share in that resurrection. Now in today’s reading – the climax of the story – Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb.
It’s probably important that we take a moment to remind ourselves that we understand the miracles Jesus performed to be ‘previews’ of the heavenly kingdom he came to announce. In his miracles the dead are raised, the sick are healed, the hungry are fed, the blind get their sight, and all forms of human suffering are banished. And all those things will be true of the kingdom of God at its fulfillment.
The New Testament often refers to the miraculous acts of Jesus as “signs.” That’s significant, because a sign directs our attention to something beyond itself. So Jesus’ miracles can be considered signs of the kingdom to come. In this story, for instance, Jesus even says (in verse 40 of this passage), “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
The other thing we need to keep in mind about this story is that it happened to people who were very close to Jesus. As we said a couple of days ago, Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha might just have been Jesus’ best friends on earth. When word of Lazarus’ illness gets to Jesus, the messenger says, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” And in other stories, the two sisters demonstrate such a relaxed familiarity with Jesus that it’s hard to escape the impression that they were like sisters to Jesus, too.
I think you have to keep that in mind when you read the famous short verse in this story: “Jesus wept.” Even knowing that he is about to resuscitate Lazarus, it seems that Jesus is heartbroken at the suffering of his friends. In this story, Jesus shares first-hand in the human experience of grief and loss. It’s common to hear people of faith confidently declare God to be “all knowing.” But this story makes me wonder whether God – here in this world in the form of Jesus – might have experienced the pain of human life that day in a way that can only be experienced in the flesh. I can’t help wondering if God might have learned something that day.
And there’s one other thing about this story that’s often overlooked, but that’s worth thinking about. In two places in the story it talks about Jesus being “deeply moved.” But the Greek word that’s translated that way really means something like ‘angry.’ So it seems to me one of the things the Spirit wants us to know is that when God in human form stood in the middle of the suffering death causes, it made him angry. Maybe it offended God to see creatures made in his image being subjected to this kind of grief.
The long stories in the Gospel of John don’t lend themselves to our habit of looking for a single lesson at the heart of the story. They’re more complicated, with a lot to think about. But this much seems true: The story of Lazarus makes it clear that we serve a God who did not stand back in the safety of heaven and leave us to face our sufferings alone. Instead, our God came into this world to be with us in everything we go through – including the pain of grief and loss.
And this story also reminds us that in Jesus, God has broken the power of death, for us as well as for Jesus and Lazarus. It also reinforces the promise of Jesus that after the hardships of this world, those of us who follow him can hold fast to the hope of being with him in the glorious kingdom that God is bringing to fulfillment.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for this great story, and for the reminder it gives us that you did not shrink from the hardship and pain of life when you came into the world. Use this story to strengthen us for a life of faith – to share as Jesus did in the tears of those who grieve around us, and to share with them the hope we have as his followers. Amen.
Have a great weekend, and worship God joyfully on Sunday!
(The other readings for today are Psalms 51 and 65; Job 31:24-40; and Acts 15:12-21.)