Lazarus is Dead
“Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.'” – John 11:14
Lazarus was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt about that. Not asleep. Not sick. Not away on sabbatical. Dead. Dead as a doornail, as Charles Dickens wrote of Jacob Marley.
By the time Jesus got to Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Long enough to bring the whole town to tears. Long enough to make a stench, as his sister Martha told Jesus (or in the King James’ version, “a stinketh”). Lazarus was dead.
Even before he got to the tomb, both Martha and Mary told him Lazarus was dead. They also told him it was his fault. “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.” The townspeople drive it home again. Lazarus is dead, and it’s your fault. Three times. Like nails into a coffin—or into hands and feet.
No wonder Jesus stood at the tomb and wept, sobbing for his friend whom he loved, for Martha and Mary whom he also loved. Weeping for himself, too. The next tomb would be his own, after he’d hung dead on a cross in a place called “The Skull.” Other women would weep, just like Martha and Mary. Three days later, when those women went to his tomb, they’d also expect a stench. Why else take spices?
Lazarus was dead. Jesus would be soon. Often titled “The Raising of Lazarus,” I call this miracle story “The Descending of Jesus.” It shows God’s willingness to go to the depths of human life—deep into the despair, impotence, and grief Jesus knew at Lazarus’ death. This story demonstrates, in the words of Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Sobbing at the tomb of his friend, Jesus showed the depth of that love. That’s miracle enough for me.
Thank you, God, for going to the depths. Thank you for your love that goes deeper still. Amen.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Part 1 and Mark Part 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.