Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Lazarus, Come Forth!"

This Sunday the readings recall when Jesus raised from the dead the brother of his friends Mary and Martha. Here is a condensed excerpt from the Gospel of John, Chapter 11:

"Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

"... Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. ....On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.

"... When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

" Jesus wept.

"Then 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?”

"Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

" Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me..."

"When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

"Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

"Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

"But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

" Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

"...So from that day on they plotted to take his life. "

Go here to read the entire account, with all details.

John 11, Verse 35: "Jesus wept", is the shortest verse in the Bible. It is a profound statement of Jesus' grief for his friend, his empathy for Mary and Martha, his feeling for the pain of others. I wrestled with this one for a long time - I wondered why he felt the pain and loss of grief, since Jesus knew in advance that he would raise Lazarus to life again.

But Jesus was a human man, and grief is a human emotion that responds to the immediate condition. "Any man's death diminishes me" the poet and preacher John Donne wrote.

Christians believe that Jesus was the only "perfect" human who has ever lived - the only one of us who never sinned. Part and parcel with that is pure emotional health: Jesus was not insulated from his emotions, and felt and expressed himself honestly, innocently, and righteously.

Jesus wept because his friend had died.

Like real men everywhere, he was not afraid to love, and not ashamed to cry.

Image: "The Raising of Lazarus", Painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1896

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