Holy Week is about to begin. But before it does, we remember one of the most important events in the ministry of Jesus.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
John’s Gospel was written last, and it is important to keep that in mind. Nothing ended up in there by accident. John knew of the other Gospels, and so included what he felt was necessary to achieve his purpose with his Gospel. More than a recounting of the life of Jesus, John’s Gospel is highly theological in nature. It is also a response to many of the concerns, questions and difficulties that the early Church had faced.
The Bread of Life discourse was written to make clear the True Presence, the beginning of his Gospel made clear that Jesus was God from all time, and the mention of the piercing of Jesus’s side in the Passion made it clear that Jesus died on the cross, and died of crucifixion. Here John mentions the raising of Lazarus for another clear purpose.
Lazarus hadn’t simply died. He had died and been buried. More than that, enough time had passed, 4 days, that his body would have begun to decompose. This is why there is mention of the stench by Martha. The other people whom Jesus raised from the dead in the Gospels were not dead nearly so long. The young man at Nain had yet to be buried, and the young girl was dead perhaps only minutes, or maybe an hour or two. But this is four days later. Yet, despite the fact that Lazarus’s body was beginning to decay, Jesus commanded he come out of the tomb, and he did just that. Things like early decay mean nothing to God.
This is a message for all of us- not to fear the decay of this world. And to be assured that the resurrection is real, and will happen to those who are faithful. No matter the conditions are bodies may be in, God can and will raise us up. This, I think, is why John included this passage in his Gospel. He was answering the concerns of those who were wondering how a bodily resurrection could work after decay set in. St. Paul had already answered those questions in a letter to the Corinthians, but they would of course have persisted. Hence why John brings us the story of Lazarus, and the other Gospels don’t. We find in this passage a great reassurance for us, and so this is a special day to thank the Lord, and be mindful that death is not the end.