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. -John 11:1-45
Lazarus rises from death only to inevitably face another of the same kind of death. However, in this life he is a sign, anticipating the resurrection I shall know and can know now. Come out from your tombs! Become fully alive in the Christ! That which is alive shall live!
Lazarus represents all humanity. (Meditation One). Like spring, he lives again, his blood coursing through him, not abandoned to flesh mouldering beneath a wind-swept rose bush on a cemetery hill (Meditation Two). Unbound, we're called to unbind others, and let them go - that is true freedom (Mditation Three).
Roll away the stone that is over my heart, my soul, my being! Long habits of capitulation and cowardice distance me from the compassion You planted into the soul of my soul when You knit me together in my mother's womb. Awaken my slumbering heart! Help me to respond to others needs! Call me forth from the tomb of deadening acquiescence, my close-mindedness, my limitations, my stupor of sloth, my prejudices. Roll away the stone, so heavy, heavy over my heart, O Holy One.
Meditation One (introit) All Humanity
As this Lazarus-Adam returns through the door of death, he seems to be all humanity, responding to the voice of Jesus who has himself risen from the tomb. Lazarus, the dying man of Bethany (literally “house of the afflicted”), embodies the totality of human misery and need, the weight of sin and mortality, which Jesus is to take up and transform by his passion.
-Bruno Barnhart The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center
O Lord, thou hast shed tears for Lazarus, Showing that thou art man; And then hast raised him from the dead, Showing to the peoples that thou art the Son of God.
There is none like thee, forbearing Lord. Thou doest all things for our sake as God, and thou sufferest as man. Make us all partakers of thy Kingdom, at the prayers of Lazarus.
-Orthodox hymn for the Saturday of Lazarus
The Two Sayings
Two sayings of the Holy Scriptures beat Like pulses in the Church's brow and breast; And by them we find rest in our unrest And, heart deep in salt-tears, do yet entreat God's fellowship as if on heavenly seat. The first is JESUS WEPT,--whereon is prest Full many a sobbing face that drops its best And sweetest waters on the record sweet: And one is where the Christ, denied and scorned LOOKED UPON PETER. Oh, to render plain By help of having loved a little and mourned, That look of sovran love and sovran pain Which HE, who could not sin yet suffered, turned On him who could reject but not sustain !
Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806-1861
The things that change are not our real life. Within us there is another body, another beauty. It belongs to that ray of Light which never changes. We must discover how to mingle with It and become one with that Unchanging thing. We must realize and understand this treasure of Truth. That is why we have come to the world. Within your heart in a space no bigger than an atom, God has placed the 18,000 universes.The things that change are not our real life
Bawa Muhaiyaddeen c.1900-1986
Troparion (Tone 1) By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, You did confirm the universal Resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory, We cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death; Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!
Kontakion (Tone 2) Christ the Joy, the Truth and the Light of all, The Life of the World and the Resurrection Has appeared in His goodness to those on earth. He has become the Image of our Resurrection, Granting divine forgiveness to all!
Orthodox, Saturday of Lazarus
The Resurrection of Lazarus, Duccio, 1308-11
Meditation Two (insight) Lazarus
That imperious summons! Spring's restlessness among dry leaves. He stands at the grave's entrance and rubs death from his eyes,
while thought's fountain recommences its play, watering the waste ground over again for the germination of the blood's seed, where roses should blow.
Meditation Three (integration) Unbind Them And Let Them Go
The function of freedom is to free someone else.
-Toni Morrison 1931-2019
The Last Word
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
-Albert Camus 1913-1960
The Resurrection of Lazarus, Giotto, 1305-8, detail, including taking away the stone
I used to think Lazarus might have been disappointed to be recalled from death. And perhaps Martha and Mary needed him for their survival - why else selfishly beg for Jesus' presence, especially at the cost of Jesus' own safety? I think now, though, that Lazarus, conformed to the will of God, may have been content with the inconvenience, accepting the new threat of violence to himself and his family as a result of Jesus' action (John 12:10-11). Lazarus may have even been willing to be a SIGN, if not a walking target, to further the Good News, despite any and all consequences.
Having died already, what would Lazarus have to lose? I've talked with people who have clinically died and been resuscitated who are no longer afraid of death. But it isn't just the extraordinary coming back from the dead that invigorates our own connection to the story. It's Lazarus living for something much larger than himself, not contingent upon his life or death.
I overheard on older friend once describe my conversion experience in my early twenties this way: “She's Lazarus come out of the tomb.” In a way it was true, the first of a series of conversions and awakenings, like a hermit crab molting, leaving behind an exoskeleton time after time and, in successive increments living for something unseen and beyond myself. Life in Christ demands successive deaths and re-births. Maturing and growing in consciousness requires painful re-engagements with life-cycles of re-birth, self-sacrifice, transformation, dying, and being born again.
Am I due for another molting?
A grace of aging is knowing from experience that the calling forth (Lazarus, come out!) will come in its own time, and once you emerge from the latest tomb - whatever that may be - you can't go back anymore than you can change your mind about having a baby when you are in labor. I know I'm called, like Lazarus, to come out of my tomb, to become fully alive, again and again.