CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Standing by the Tomb
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.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “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. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 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.”
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.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 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. 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.” 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. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
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.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."
How many of us have heard these words while standing in church at the start of a funeral – the funeral of someone we dearly loved? How many of us have felt the incongruent comfort of this anthem wash over us as we mourn the loss of a friend? But how many of us consider that these words come from the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John – and how might that affect how we hear them?
The raising of Lazarus falls almost exactly at the middle point of John’s gospel, and it is the last and greatest of the seven “signs” performed by Jesus. This gospel is written with an amazing literary theme: that the incarnation, ministry, passion, and resurrection of Jesus represent a re-casting and completion of the seven days of creation from the book of Genesis. So, the seventh sign, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, can be seen as a parallel to the seventh day of creation: the culmination of creation and hallowing of that seventh day as the Sabbath, when God rested. The idea of Sabbath rest calls to mind another phrase from the funeral liturgy: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.” However, if Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave represents a re-casting of the seventh day, what does that mean for notions of Sabbath rest? Jesus seems to be telling us that rest and death are not actually synonymous; rather, the crowning of creation, the culmination and truth at the heart of God’s Sabbath, is life: life, where it seems least likely to be found, life even in the face of seemingly irrefutable defeat. Sabbath rest, in the completeness of God’s presence, is life itself.
In the conversation between Jesus and Martha in verses 21-27, Martha acknowledges the future resurrection “at the last day” when Lazarus, and everyone else, shall rise. Jesus does not refute Martha’s statement about the final resurrection, but he telescopes it, twists it around, and brings it home in a surprising way when he says, “I am that resurrection." Resurrection is me. Resurrection is who and what I am. Whenever Jesus says to us something that begins with, “I am,” we need to lean forward and pay extra attention; particularly in John’s Gospel, it’s his trinitarian calling card. "I AM," remember, is what God tells Moses that his name is. Therefore, by telling us something about himself, Jesus is telling us something about the nature of God: Jesus (God) is resurrection. Jesus (God) is new life: life in spite of, beyond, and over and against the grave. Jesus is, in fact, the embodiment of the last day. While he was present on earth in his humanity, Jesus revealed to his disciples the convergence of the transcendent and immanent, the future and the present, the already and the not-yet.
We live in the not-yet, waiting for the completion of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. We live in a world of funerals, of our own Lazarus-friends, as far as we can tell, staying in their graves. But the promise of Jesus is that we don’t stay in our graves. The final weeks of Lent ask us to journey with Jesus from the tomb of Lazarus to his own tomb, which sits empty.
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