#75: Lazarus

John 11:30-51

Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
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 odour, 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. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent 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! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, two sisters and a brother, what a strange little household they were. No marriages (unless husbands and wife had died) and no children. They are portrayed in the gospels not so much as disciples or followers of Jesus but as very special friends. No wonder then that Jesus wept at the tomb of a very good friend and how reassuring to see that Jesus had all the emotional sadness of grief that we experience. And how tragically ironic that in raising a man to life he condemns himself to death.

If I was Aladdin and Jesus was my genie of the lamp what three things would I wish for?
First, restoration and healing for my daughter, Zoe.
Second, something very special for my wonderful wife, such as a much better husband (she deserves it!)
And third, life after death, resurrection, a beginning again after the cemetery.
Lazarus gets wish number three.

When Jesus says ‘Lazarus, come out’,
Come out of the tomb,
Out of the pit,
The darkness,
Come out of the black hole that is about to swallow you forever.

Come into the light.
Into the land of new beginnings.
where life is deeper, brighter, bigger.

Come out of the death,
And into the life.

So is Lazarus the single luckiest person in the whole world or is he a pathfinder, a beacon, an image of everything Jesus wants to do for every one of us.
Many years ago I was sitting or lazying on the sofa watching a film. It’s my day off and the end of a very busy week. The film is called ‘Highlander’ and half way through a Queen song kicks in…

‘Who wants to live forever?’

I am immediately pulled back to full wakefulness, partly by the dramatic melody but more by the repetitive asking of the question. Straightaway I am thinking of lots of people who need to be confronted by the question whilst also silently shrieking my own answer. I do, I want to live forever, I’ve always wanted to live forever.

There’s no time for us.
There’s no place for us.
What is this thing that builds our dreams,
Yet slips away from us?
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
There’s no chance for us.
It’s all decided for us.
This world has only one,
Sweet moment set aside for us.
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Who dares to love forever?
Oh, when love must die?
But touch my tears with your lips,
Touch my world with your fingertips.
And we can have forever,
And we can love forever,
Forever is our today.
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Forever is our today,
Who waits forever anyway?

Sometime after this I actually got to meet the truly lovely and gentle Brian May. He told me how he had written this song when he heard about Freddie Mercury’s impending death. I think we have all got an impending death. It takes us all and steals from us all.

Lazarus was not the luckiest, he was the first of many. The word for it is not lucky but blessed. Blessed with resurrection, blessed with a second chance, blessed with eternity.

Caiaphas, the High Priest, didn’t realise what a great and prophetic statement he was making. ‘It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’

Lord Jesus,
Help me to hear you calling me by name.
To hear you calling me out of the tomb,
And back to light and life.
Help me to respond to you,
And to live again.