|Lazarus, Come Forth - Salvador Dali|
In Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary the Gospel readings for Sundays in Lent include three unusually lengthy episodes. They all relate personal encounters with Jesus, through which a deep theological point is revealed. On the third Sunday, Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. On the fourth, it is the man born blind. On this, the fifth Sunday in Lent, it is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, an encounter not just with an individual, but with the whole household at Bethany – Mary, Martha, Lazarus -- all special friends of Jesus.
In each of these stories there is a miraculous element, and the dramatic nature of the miracle intensifies from one episode to the next. Jesus, somehow, knows the Samaritan woman’s personal history without asking. This impresses her greatly, but it pales in comparison with the miraculous gift of sightedness to a man who had never been able to see. The restoration of Lazarus from death to life is more dramatic still, but it also has special significance for John's Gospel as a whole. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, it is overturning the tables in the temple that finally leads the Jewish authorities to the conclusion that Jesus must die. In John's, it is the raising of Lazarus that brings them to the same conclusion. Why is this?
|Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones Gustave Dore|
If the raising of Lazarus is what gives rise to this plan, it also reveals its futility. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones into which the Spirit of God breathes life, places Jesus’s miracle beyond mere revival and into the context of redemption. The passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans invites us to go further. It challenges us to think quite differently about life and death. “To set the mind on the flesh is death" he says, "but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. . . . If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
Lazarus’s corrupting body, then, is not the only form of death. Nor is it the worst. Jesus displays God’s creative power in a spectacular act that reverses the normal processes of nature. Yet the point is not to give Lazarus a few extra years. It is to show that a quite different life-giving transformation is on offer and to warn us, paradoxically, against clinging desperately to this mortal life. The raising of Lazarus is a sign of this truth. Its ultimate vindication is still to come. The plotting of the chief priests and Pharisees seems to succeed in the Crucifixion, only to be followed by another, far more significant 'rising from the dead' -- Christ's own Resurrection