I have always loved this story about the raising of Lazarus. There are so many things to explore in it.
Jesus is out in the country with his close disciples when he gets word of Lazarus’ illness and he stays there for two more days. Now, I don’t claim to understand Jesus’ nature but I believe he was fully God and fully man and as such, I suspect he knew by the time the messenger had arrived Lazarus had already died. So, he waited to return. He knew he would not be able to get back in time for the funeral and burial so he stayed where he was.
As we learn from Thomas, they all knew it would be dangerous to return to Jerusalem, and Bethany is right on the doorstep of the Holy City. Lazarus’ home he shared with his sisters seems to have been a favorite spot for Jesus to stay when he went to Jerusalem. No matter what Jesus did on this trip, there would be trouble.
What I truly love about this story is Martha. I love that Martha is redeemed as she takes some major leaps of faith in this story. I love to remember Martha the way she is depicted in this passage rather than a mean-spirited sister who wants help in the pantry.
Mary and Martha--and Lazarus--knew the powers Jesus could use to heal. I’m sure the three of them were aware that Lazarus could have been healed by Jesus--that his death could have been avoided. We don’t have any idea what killed him except that he was ill. We don’t know if it was a sudden illness or something that was ongoing. We don’t know if the man and his sisters were reluctant to ask Jesus to come because they knew it would be dangerous--not just for Jesus but for them, too.
And Jesus did come--too late, way too late! Lazarus had been dead four days when Jesus arrived and Mary and Martha were still observing shiva--the week of mourning following the death of a loved one. People would have been sitting with them to assure they had what they needed.
When Martha realized Jesus had come, she ran out to greet him and told him if he had been there, Lazarus would not have died. But, she was comforted in knowing Lazarus would be raised again at the end of time.
And Jesus tells her she does not have to wait, that because he, Jesus, is the resurrection and the life--Lazarus can be raised right now. And, then Martha does something really brave and remarkable. She acts on her faith in this man, Jesus, and she asks for the stone to be rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb. She is sure the smell will be horrific and the thought of disturbing her brother’s body opens anew the wounds of grief but she says, “Roll away the stone.”
And Lazarus is alive again--bound in his burial shroud but alive again. Lazarus hears Jesus’ voice and comes out of the grave.
Jesus took a moment for his own grief over losing his friend, perhaps that he wasn’t there to help him when he was ill. Maybe Jesus is weeping for all of us at that moment--and maybe for himself, too. All of us must die. Lazarus eventually died again. Jesus died.
During Lent we always have this opportunity to spend time at the tomb--to recognize we are mortal--that nothing we do here in the physical world in our physical bodies is permanent. And this year, it is especially true. We are spending this time missing our regular lives. We are spending this time getting caught up on household chores.
And like Martha and Mary, we are worried we will lose our loved ones to this virus. We are worried that people who barely get by in life will find themselves without what they need: shelter, food, and medical care. This is a Lenten season we will remember for the rest of our lives and others will into the future.
But we have this promise, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And I hope this promise from Jesus can help us do brave and outrageous things in Jesus’ name-just as Martha did. To not only help those whom we know and love but also help the stranger, the lost, and the hopeless. I hope we can all hear the master’s voice when he says, “My child, come forth!”