Fifth Sunday of Lent – 17 March 2024

John 11:35 is famously the shortest verse in the entire bible. Whether in the original Greek, Latin, or in English, it is only two words, in English: “Jesus wept.” Powerful words, but also intriguing. Why does Jesus weep as he contemplates the grave of his friend, when he knows what he is about to do? Lazarus will be raised, why the need for tears?

But that is the point. This is the “raising” of Lazarus, not his “resurrection.” They are two different things. After he was raised, Lazarus died again. This raising was returning Lazarus to everyday life not to the life of glory in heaven. He would experience pain and suffering, as a follower of Jesus. Indeed his second death would be not by disease but by murder as those who sought the death of Jesus sought also to remove the evidence of his miracles. That the evidence of raising someone from the dead would produce, not joy and praise of God, but evil plans and murder was good enough reason to weep.

Which leads to the question: Why would Jesus do such a thing to Lazarus? The answer is surely for love, but not just love of Lazarus. It was surely for the sake of Martha and Mary that Lazarus was raised from the dead. Jesus was restoring Lazarus to his close family and to his friends. That reunion was an undoubted good. And a reminder that our joy and happiness are not just for and about ourselves.

Love given and received is the heart of our true life. That is why Lazarus returned. In death Lazarus heard a divine command and he recognized in that voice the voice of a close friend. Jesus was not simply reanimating a corpse. He was doing something much more significant than that! He was showing that love of others, especially family and friends, is the core of our joy. And since family and friends await us also in the life to come, death is no longer something to fear for God’s purpose must lie in reunion.

Sometimes the world around us seems quite chaotic but there is nothing more chaotic than our own death and dissolution. But if we believe that God has created us for a purpose then historical events only matter in so far as they affect the way that we respond to God. It matters that people are being born and that people are dying; it matters even more whether people are being born to a new life in Christ or have yet to respond to His commandment to emerge from our spiritual graves. It matters whether they are making their greatest desire and goal love, fellowship, and unity, or separation and despair.

Fr Chris Denham

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