Fifth Sunday Lent 2011 Raising of Lazarus

Updated - Mass readings and several reflections for Sunday are here

This reflection by Ron Rolheiser may help all of us who ask the question why is there suffering ?

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany,
the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

Painting :Fields of Bethany by J.C. Armytage

Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil
and dried his feet with her hair; 


It was her brother Lazarus who was ill.

 So the sisters sent word to him saying,
“Master, the one you love is ill.”

When Jesus heard this he said,
“This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill,
he remained for two days in the place where he was.


Then after this he said to his disciples,
“Let us go back to Judea.”
The disciples said to him,
“Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you,
and you want to go back there?”

Jesus answered,
“Are there not twelve hours in a day?

If one walks during the day, he does not stumble,
because he sees the light of this world.

But if one walks at night, he stumbles,
because the light is not in him.” 

He said this, and then told them,
“Our friend Lazarus is asleep,
but I am going to awaken him.”

So the disciples said to him,
“Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.”

But Jesus was talking about his death,
while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. 

So then Jesus said to them clearly,
“Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there,
that you may believe.
Let us go to him.”

So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples,
“Let us also go to die with him.” 

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.
And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.

Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”

Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”

She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this,
she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying,
“The teacher is here and is asking for you.”

As soon as she heard this,
she rose quickly and went to him.
For Jesus had not yet come into the village,
but was still where Martha had met him.

So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her
saw Mary get up quickly and go out,
they followed her,
presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him,
she fell 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 had come with her weeping,
he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
“Where have you laid him?”

They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”

Above James Tissot "Jesus wept. "

And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”

But some of them said,
“Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him,
“Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.”

Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
“Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me;
but because of the crowd here I have said this,
that they may believe that you sent me.”

And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.

So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

Depictions of the raising of Lazarus

The Raising of Lazarus by  Caravaggio (1571-1610)
 Jesus commands Death to give up the body of Lazarus. The onlookers are full of confusion, even panic, as they try to come to grips with what is happening.
Caravaggio's Jesus possesses magnificent power, and his pointing arm speaks with unanswerable authority. A friend supports Lazarus' body, and the two sisters Mary and Martha stand at his head. But already life is pouring back into Lazarus' body, evident from his raised right hand. The onlookers cannot look away from Jesus'  face. Painted almost at the end of Caravaggio's life, this painting has the dramatic naturalism for which he is famous.

The Raising of Lazarus by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)

The portrayal of Lazarus makes no allowance for squeamish stomachs. He is dead, and his body has begun to decay. Jesus raises a commanding hand to him with the loud words "Lazarus, come out!". The people around him are overcome with fear and consternation.
This is one of the superlative frescoes from the Arena  Chapel in Padua - Giotto's greatest work. 

Giotto was one of the first artists to try to show human emotion in the facial expressions and gestures of the people in his paintings.

For more about burial practices at the time of Jesus see  here

Lazarus emerges from his tomb still covered with the loose-fitting shroud. Dark red-green patches on the shroud suggest the decay of his rotting body beneath the cloth.

As with all of Dali's work, there is a dream-like quality. 
His image of Lazarus appeals to the fear of death and decay within all living creatures, but has an energy that speaks of life as well. 

Dali is known for his use of symbolism, but there is not much that is symbolic in this picture. It is more impressionistic, suggesting as it does both death and life in a single image.

The artist James Tissot had obviously visited this tomb when he painted the scene above in his 'Raising of Lazarus'- compare the actual tomb below with his painting.


Meditation for Fifth Sunday Lent from here

This is the last record in John's gospel of powerful public action by Jesus. It also sets in motion the final steps in the plot against him that will lead to his trial and crucifixion.

Throughout the last few weeks  Jesus has been engaging in a ministry of great signs - signs of power, love, healing, and hope. He has restored sight to the blind,  and those who were paralyzed get up and walk. 
And now here is the raising of Lazarus.stone cold and starting to decompose after four days in the tomb, Jesus tells him to walk out of the tomb and he does.
At this point, there is little doubt as to who Jesus is, and what He is capable of.

Because in this story of Jesus trampling down the power of death, Jesus is also presented as fully human and having to confront his own vulnerability and the anguish of the death of his friend that presages his own.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are close friends ; he visits, eats with them in their home and stays with them when in Bethany.

Jesus is sharply confronted by mortality and is even stung by the rebuke given by Mary at his lateness. But her words often mimic our own when we lose someone we love - when we experience the shock of loss through the death of a loved one, especially if the death is accompanied by doubts that God IS present when He appears so patently absent.

Soon Jesus will experience the ultimate misunderstanding of His mission and devastating rejection ending in the humiliation of the cross. No wonder that the sense of his agitation and frustration comes through in this dialogue.

When Jesus succumbed to the primal human reaction of fear, acknowledging and embracing  the fundamental and inescapable nature of pain,  He does not shirk away from it but fully experiences the suffering that arises from the experience of life and death and he cries openly at the death of his dear friend.
In a few weeks we will witness the suffering and crucifixion and the death of Jesus and this passage makes me realise the utter terror that Jesus must have been beginning to feel at what lay in store for Him.

For John, the resurrection of Lazarus is a sign anticipating the resurrection of Jesus. 

For all of us who believe in the resurrection of Jesus as the ground of our faith and the basis for our own hope of sharing in Jesus’ resurrection,  there is one crucial difference : Lazarus will die again but Jesus once resurrected will never die again.
 A lot of commentaries ask the question why Jesus delayed in coming to Lazarus. 
There are plenty of answers for us in this gospel but that can't have made it any easier on a human level  for Jesus . 

Ron Rolheiser says :

"On the cross we see one person, but as being held and empowered by somebody else. Less visible, but clearly there as the recipient of this trust, present as the one whom this drama is ultimately about, is the Father. 
He is also on the cross, suffering with the Son, holding the Son in this darkness, showing himself worthy of trust, and trusting the Son not to short-circuit the tension so that God's response, the resurrection, can be what it should be - not an act of vengeance, nor a bullying definition of who's in charge, but an act of unfathomable redemption, understanding, forgiveness, and love, an act that, more than anything else, defines God. 
The Father is there, too, on the cross, suffering, waiting in patience, empowering another to trust.

The Holy Spirit is also on the cross, uniquely generated and released by what unfolds there. As the drama of the crucifixion, this deep interplay of giving and receiving  and trust is taking place, a forgiving warmth, a healing fire, and an unfathomable patience and understanding are being produced, revealed, and released. 

That energy, which the Gospels depict as spilling out of Jesus pierced side as blood and water, is the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit reveals precisely what is going on inside of God. "

This week as I attended a funeral for a very close friend who had suffered from cancer for some time, I was forcibly struck by the fact that this is what death asks us to do : hand over the person we love into the hands of God and that we feel totally disempowered until we are able to let go totally and that our need for God is never  more clear than at this time.

After wiping the tears from his eyes, Jesus raised the one for whom he cried. That too is what we have to do with the death of our loved ones; to ask Jesus to share in our grief and tears and then raise the person up from the dead , like only God can do.

Here in this Gospel we find the sacred synergy of humanity and divinity alive in our world and the compassionate awesome power of Jesus, the Son of God,  waking His dear friend from the deep sleep of death.
That's what Jesus does for us time and again, repeatedly through the cycles of our life, little deaths and renewals  through all the years of our lives until our final inevitable death.

This wonderful passage shows us that the death of Jesus on Good Friday is not a defeat, since Jesus has the ultimate power over death. 
Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He affirms that “whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Physical death is not a defeat, just a natural step on the way to fullness of life with God. 

Generally we all seem to struggle to feel God's action in the present moment of our lives. The urge to say God is with us can seem glib when mostly it feels like God isn't there for us but it's part of the complex nature of faith that God's reality is often felt more like an absence than a presence.

As Ron Rolheiser says :
"When we turn around and look back in our lives, when we look back on our story', we more easily see how God has been there all along and how we have walked in a divine presence, protection, guidance, and love that were imperceptible at the time but are clear in retrospect. 

We see God more clearly in our past than in our present. 
We see God's back more than we see God's face.

This can be helpful in understanding how Christ is present to us, even when it doesn't always feel like it.

Faith doesn't promise us a ladder to crawl out of the pains of life. 

It promises a friend to walk with through those pains. 

Mostly though it's only when we look back in our lives that we see that this friend has always been there.”

So ................. what else to say ?

Image of Lazarus above from here shows a statue, by Sir Jacob Epstein which stands in the antechapel of New College chapel in Oxford, and was installed c.1948.
I believe in the power of God, and  I believe in a world beyond this one.

I believe in God's power to take our lives and our deaths, and make them mean something more;the exact nature of which is beyond my imagination.

As I ponder the message of new life beyond death I believe and hope that the best is yet to come...

"Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above........
Here there is not Greek and Jew,
circumcision and uncircumcision,
barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all."
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