In the liturgical year, tomorrow is the day known as “Lazarus Saturday“. The story of the resurrection of Lazarus can be found here. Of all the supernatural reports found in the gospels, of water-to-wine and blind eyes seeing, this is the episode that gives me an intimate look at the kind of person Jesus was.
Most of the other Biblical accounts of miracles are tantalizing twitter-style headlines: “Bleeding woman healed”, “Paralytic runs out of house after meeting Jesus”, “Demonized man back in town, claims he’s free and sane”.
But the Lazarus account gives me something more. The account places us in the midst of this family who loved their friend Jesus. They’d famously opened their home to him at least once for dinner and conversation (but I suspect they gathered more than just this once), and one of the sibs had purchased beautiful perfume she later poured onto Jesus’ feet to Judas’ dismay, an act of raw, unscripted worship. We get a glimpse of the kind of relationship the family shared with Jesus: “So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick‘” (John 11:3).
They wanted Jesus to know that their beloved brother was sick. Not head cold sick, but mortally ill. There is an implied expectation, perhaps, that the One who’d done one miracle after another for people He didn’t personally know would have a miracle for this family who were deeply committed to Him.
In response to their urgent SOS, Jesus spoke prophetically, proclaiming that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death, but would be used to glorify God. Then, instead of rushing to Lazarus’ side (or at least proclaiming healing from where He was), Jesus stayed put. Didn’t go to his friend. Hung out. Talked, ate, walked, laughed, slept. Then, finally, two days later, told His tribe He was heading back to Bethany to awaken Lazarus.
Awaken? His disciples might have momentarily had the image of a slumber party prank from the language Jesus used, until He clarified: Lazarus is dead – and we’re going there so you will believe Me. This pronouncement must have made the last 48 hours (the time between his prophetic word and the present moment) completely nonsensical to the disciples.
But it was nothing compared to the confusion the sisters were experiencing. They were smack dab in the middle of the first week of their mourning period; Lazarus had been gone for 4 days. Just before Passover in Israel, the days are warm. Lazarus’ body, tucked into a shallow cave grave and wrapped with burial cloths like a papier-mache pinata, would have been an oozing, rotting mess.
Even Jesus’ delay did not entirely snuff out Martha and Mary’s faith in Him. Martha ran to meet Him, grief spilling out of her: “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21-22). There was a powerful affirmation about what she knew He could do – heal sick people. Fix broken people.
His eyes must have held hers in a stunning, intense moment when He said He Himself was resurrection. Life. Not just healing, but Life itself.
He called for His friend Mary, who met Him and fell at his feet (again, as she had been two other times in Scripture, for completely different reasons) with the exact same words her sister had, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:32).
In the following moments, Jesus’ humanity and divinity are open for all to see. He weeps. I can not imagine this is a moist, careful shedding of a few tears, Jesus dabbing with a small corner of his sleeve at the salt water rivulets gently flowing from His eyes. Instead, He expresses the pain of the Father sending Adam and Eve from Eden; His cries of sorrow for a dead friend mingling with and mirroring the pain of these faithful sisters and the others who’re there mourning with them. I hear sobbing, the kind of rare anguish that comes from a man engaged in full-on weeping.
And then, a reminder about the promise He’d made earlier. A prayer. And then, He called His friend. The first voice Lazarus had heard in four days was his friend calling him from death to Life. The chaos and celebration that must have erupted among those who saw this unimaginable resurrection happen before their very eyes was likely dwarfed by the joyous reunion between the siblings. They were standing together on the soil of the kingdom of heaven with their Friend. It was true. Everything He said was truer than they ever could have begun to comprehend, until He shattered death with Life.
A week later, He’d be dead.
Lazarus Saturday gives all of us who are friends of Jesus a chance to spend time on the holy ground where grief and resurrection first collided.