The Raising of Lazarus
(Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A)

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The Raising of Lazarus - by REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn -
from Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles


John 11:1-45

There was a certain man named Lazarus who was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary whose brother Lazarus was sick was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and dried His feet with her hair.) The sisters sent word to Jesus to inform Him, "Lord, the one you love is sick."

Upon hearing this, Jesus said: "This sickness is not to end in death; rather it is for God's glory, that through it the Son of God may be glorified."

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus very much. Yet, after hearing that Lazarus was sick, He stayed on where He was for two days more. Finally He said to His disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."

"Rabbi," protested the disciples, "with the Jews only recently trying to stone You, You are going back up there again?"

Jesus answered: "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? If a man goes walking by day he does not stumble, because he sees the world bathed in light. But if he goes walking at night he will stumble, since there is no light in him." After uttering these words, He added, "Our beloved Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him."

At this the disciples objected, "Lord, if he is asleep his life will be saved."

Jesus had been speaking about his death, but they thought He meant sleep in the sense of slumber. Finally Jesus said plainly, "Lazarus is dead. For your sakes I am glad I was not there, that you may come to believe. In any event, let us go to him."

Then Thomas (the name means "Twin") said to his fellow disciples, "Let us go along, to die with him."

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. The village was not far from Jerusalem -- just under two miles -- and many Jewish people had come out to console Martha and Mary over their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming she went to meet Him, while Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would never have died. Even now, I am sure that God will give You whatever You ask of Him."

"Your brother will rise again," Jesus assured her.

"I know he will rise again," Martha replied, "in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus told her: "I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in Me, though he should die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"

"Yes, Lord," she replied. "I have come to believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God: He Who is to come into the world."

When she had said this she went back and called her sister Mary. "The Teacher is here, asking for you," she whispered. As soon as Mary heard this, she got up and started out in His direction. (Actually Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still at the spot where Martha had met Him.) The Jews who were in the house with Mary consoling her saw her get up quickly and go out, so they followed her, thinking she was going to the tomb to weep there.

When Mary came to the place where Jesus was, seeing Him, she fell at His feet and said to Him, "Lord, if You had been here my brother would never have died."

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jewish folk who had accompanied her also weeping, He was troubled in spirit, moved by the deepest emotions. "Where have you laid him?" He asked.

"Lord, come and see," they said.

Jesus began to weep, which caused the Jews to remark, "See how much He loved him!"

But some said, "He opened the eyes of that blind man. Why could He not have done something to stop this man from dying?"

Once again troubled in spirit, Jesus approached the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across it. "Take away the stone," Jesus directed.

Martha, the dead man's sister, said to Him, "Lord, it has been four days now; surely there will be a stench!"

Jesus replied, "Did I not assure you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" They then took away the stone and Jesus looked upward and said: "Father, I thank You for having heard Me. I know that You always hear Me but I have said this for the sake of the crowd, that they may believe that You sent Me." Having said this, He called loudly, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, bound hand and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth. "Untie him," Jesus told them, "and let him go free."

This caused many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, to put their faith in Him.


The Raising of Lazarus

by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.

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crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes)There's more to this Gospel account than the fact that Jesus raised His friend Lazarus, one whom He dearly loved, from the dead. The miracle is both stunning - and obvious. But to plumb the depths of its meaning we have to go back to the beginning of the Bible, to the Book of Genesis, to God raising up human life by breathing His Spirit into a handful of earth's mud. Lazarus coming back from being fully dead - he was in his tomb for four days, that is for three days plus one (he was REALLY dead!) - was an act of creation. God was there back at the beginning, creating life from the slime of the earth.

Why is there death at all, we might ask? Why do we have to suffer death, anyway?

The answer is again found in the Book of Genesis. Since it entered into our world, death, together with sin that is its cause, has put its imprint on everything. When we, by our sins, radically separate ourselves from the Source of Life, from the Author of Life, from God, we bring down upon ourselves the natural consequence of separating any living thing from its Source of Life - we bring death into our lives. Adam and Eve didn't do that all by themselves. We cooperated and worked with them in bringing about that radical separation of ourselves, and therefore human life, from God.

For all that, death cannot defeat the God of Life, the God of the Living. For at the conclusion of the Book of Genesis, God promised us a Messiah Who would deliver us from sin and the inevitable consequences of our sins, a Savior Who would deliver us from the death we brought down upon ourselves.

There is no visible difference between human beings, whether they are believers or unbelievers. All humans are subject to the same fate; we are all traveling toward bodily death. The condition of the believer is, however, radically different, even though the difference is not evident and apparent. We are all poor. To be poor means to be without access to power. When it comes to avoiding death , we are all us together in a state of radical poverty; we are totally powerless over death. We are poor and without access to the power of life because we are sinners.

God, however, is radically powerful, having full power over death in His ability to bring life out of something that is utterly devoid of life, in His ability to bring life out of something that is quite dead. That is why, for the believing Christian, for those who receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, for those who come to God's Table, the Altar of Sacrifice, and receive their daily Bread of Life, life is merely changed by death, not ended. Our destiny, because we live on the Bread of Life, is to live life forever in the Communion of Saints with God.

Furthermore, we need to see that God is radically powerful over sin, having full power over sin in His ability to forgive our sins. That is why the Early Fathers of the Church saw the Sacrament of Reconciliation, saw the Sacrament of Forgiveness of Sins, in this account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, from his imprisonment in his own tomb. When we ask God to forgive our sins He raises us up to new life, just as He raised Lazarus to new life.

Jesus steps in front of Lazarus's tomb and utters His all powerful and insistent command: Lazarus, come forth! It is reminiscent of God uttering His commanding word in His original act of creation as we find it stated in the Book of Genesis. God utters His command and life is created. God breathes His Spirit into the inert soil of the earth and human life comes forth. God breathes His Holy Spirit into the dead body of Jesus Christ, imprisoned in His tomb right next to the Cross, and Christ comes forth from His tomb utterly free ... and utterly filled with His new and resurrected human life. "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life ... " To sin against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin because to sin against the Holy Spirit is to deny that He forgives us our sins. Therefore we die in them!

Our own humanity is found is Lazarus' dead humanity, imprisoned in his tomb. Our own humanity is deadened and imprisoned by our own sins. And when we allow God to approach us in His Anointed One, in His Christ, in our Messiah , we hear, as all the earth heard His life giving word at the beginning of creation, God's majestic and imperious command: "Unbind him, and let him go free." confession2.gif (11263 bytes)

THAT is what the Sacrament of Forgiveness is all about; THAT is what happens when you go to Confession and hear the life-giving words of your priest, the words of absolution and forgiveness of your sins, the words of God commanding you to come forth from that confessional, to come forth unbound and in freedom, to come forth in the resurrected life of Jesus Christ, victim of sin no longer, to walk in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God in a life free of sin.


If you have not gone to confession lately, you have missed -
you have not experienced - what Lazarus experienced.


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