Today we celebrate and wonder at the raising of Lazarus. We know from the Gospels that Lazarus was a close friend of Christ who had spent much time with him, Mary and Martha at their house in Bethany.
We need to recognise that even at this stage of Christ’s ministry there were still elements of doubt in the minds of our Lord’s friends. The full and shocking extent of what was happening was still not quite apparent. The women knew Christ to be the Messiah the Son of the Living God. The dialogue with Martha is interesting to read.
“Now 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 again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
They knew of the miracles of Christ yet they do not see the power of Christ as extending over death. There are some things which seem a step too far.
I sympathise with Martha when I read this. There are limits to what we can accept on first encounter. She had a deep love of Christ; she trusted Him and yet there was a limit to what she saw to be possible. Her brother was dead. Christ could have healed the sickness but it was too late for that; the situation was apparently beyond hope. The reality is that death has occurred. The resurrection on the last day was some comfort but it was a distant prospect, a hope - but not here and now. At that point she mourned her great loss. It is speculation but I think at this point she was simply accepting an attempt to comfort her in her grief.
The conversation continued- “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Again there is a slight mismatch here. She acknowledged Him as the Christ, yet she did not answer the point about life and death. Indeed the whole episode shows a straight clash between the normal experience of people, the day to day realities, and the power of God. This is shown, movingly, in the appalled comment by Martha when Christ asked the stone be taken away ““Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” She expected a rotting corpse. The Gospels do not mince words! Then Lazarus was called out from the tomb.
His resurrection was to a new mortal life, of course. Tradition has it Lazarus became a bishop on Cyprus but died again in due course. There is a difference here in comparing the resurrection of Christ Himself which left the grave clothes behind. The raising of Lazarus was temporary. There are further lessons for us in this great miracle of the raising of Lazarus.
The first is that we may draw great comfort from the fact that our Lord acts out of love. Now the love of Christ and His actions on Earth when He was walking amongst us were limited by time and place. As Martha had said, if He had been there Lazarus would not have died.
Now, in our time, after the Ascension, there are no limits and we may be assured of His love. However, why then do we die? One day we will of course and for now we are left with the great unknowns of God’s plan. However there will come a time when death is no more and we shall live in a world made perfect. The raising of Lazarus though shows us that Christ is capable of anything. He is truly more powerful than death. In the words of Vespers for this day, “All things are possible to Thee”. It underscores that His facing of the cross and enduring of death was voluntary. “On the night when He was delivered up, or rather when He gave Himself up for the life of the world, He took bread ..” As the priest prays in the Holy Liturgy. I repeat: “He gave Himself up for the life of the world”.
The events in Bethany also made the conflict with the religious authorities inevitable. Reports were carried back. The miracles and the teachings combined meant a new order had been established. This was a threat to the established powers and structures. I suggest that it still is a threat to merely human systems and ideologies. Christ challenges all our human assumptions such that all things may be transformed by Him.
We also see in this story Christ showing forth His human nature. We are told before the miracle “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” and that shortest verse: “Jesus wept”.
Tomorrow we shall see the entry into Jerusalem and then the events of Great Week will be lived through. The two natures of Christ will be illustrated this week, the human and the divine. We shall see them in the agony in the garden and in the crucifixion itself. Yes in all this let us remember that God voluntarily entered human experience and that Christ demonstrates both a life lived perfectly and the utter depths of the Love of God. God became man that man might become divine. The Raising of Lazarus is a demonstration of God’s power extending to matters of life and death. Soon death itself was to be defeated. Such is our faith. God is with us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Let us seek to learn from Him, to follow Him and let us give glory to our Lord.
Christ our God, as we follow the events of your last days on Earth, help us to learn and to grow, deepen our understanding and lead us in all our actions. Amen.