5th Sunday of Lent

Lazarus Come Out

This weekend we read the third of the three great Lenten gospels from St John—the raising of Lazarus. Like the story of the Good Samaritan, the story of the raising of Lazarus is one that has managed to secure a place in the collective psyche as a metaphor for someone who has makes an astonishing comeback . Of course such usage misses the point which the story in the gospel is making, but in a way it demonstrates the power of the story to grab our attention. But the context of the story for us as we move towards Holy Week, must be more than a dramatic way of referring to an unexpected and unpredicted event. Following on from the stories we’ve read over the last two weeks of the Woman at the Well and the Man born Blind, where we detected an emerg- ing pattern of people being brought to faith and thereby coming to an understanding of who Jesus is, this story takes the theme of faith a step further. For Martha and Mary faith is already present and established, but as yet for them it has not had to contend with the deepest of questions, namely the meaning of death, and it is this question which Jesus brings them face to face with in the story. All of what happens draws us inexorably towards this final moment. Ini- tially Martha won’t have it. If only you’d been here my brother would not have died, she says to Jesus, as if she is hoping that she would never have to face this moment of loss and bereavement . Mary too seems to take the same view. Jesus though rather than simply consoling them in the midst of their loss, actually forces them to think about what they believe, and with that, the depth of their faith is being explored. Funda- mentally Jesus forces them to go beyond where they are, and he opens up in them a deeper and more challenging reality about who he is and what he has come into the world for. Their affirmation of him as the ‘Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world’ now becomes the focal point of all that follows. Lazarus comes forth from the tomb but he is still bound to his earthly state. The burial cloths around his body and face tell us that this is no resurrected body, Lazarus, called back to this life, will ultimately die.
This is the moment in John’s gospel when the passion really story begins. Following the raising of Lazarus, Caiaphas, the High Priest, passes his sentence that Jesus was going to die, and it is from here on in, that our minds are turned to that fateful week into which we are asked to walk. Let us do so and walk with him to Jerusalem. Let us make space in our busy schedules so that we can be here for his last supper, to go with him to watch and pray, to stand at the foot of the cross and then to rise with him from the tomb on Easter Day. Let our faith in him inform and teach us to believe that he truly is the resurrection and the life.
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