Today Saint John tells us that six days before His own death, Jesus went to Bethany where His friend Lazarus had died and had already been in the tomb for four days. By publicly raising Lazarus to life, He was clearly foreshadowing His own resurrection and proclaiming the universal resurrection of humankind.
The Church gives us this celebration of the raising of Lazarus just before we enter Holy Week in order to reassure us during the coming commemoration of Christ’s Passion. It reminds that, though He suffers and dies, He remains Lord and Victor over death. The liturgical texts emphasize the two natures of Christ, the God-man. In His grief for His friend we see His true humanity, and in His act of raising Lazarus from the dead we see His divine power. We shall continue to encounter this fullness of both humanity and divinity through Holy Week, for Christ enters into our suffering as a human being. But He also enters it as it as the God who defeats all suffering and death.
‘Come forth.’ See, I am standing by you. I am your Lord. You are the work of my hands. Why have you not known me, because in the beginning I myself formed Adam from the earth and gave him breath? Open your mouth yourself so that I may give you breath. Stand on your feet and receive strength for yourself. For I am the strength of the whole creation. Stretch out your hands, and I shall give them strength. For I am the straight staff. I command the foul odour to depart from you. For I am the sweet odour of the trees of paradise. Behold, the prophecy of Isaiah the prophet will be fulfilled in you, namely, ‘I shall open your tombs, and I shall bring you forth.’
Saint Athanasius the Great
The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 11:1-45:
At that time, a certain man was ill, Lazaros of Bethany, from the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazaros was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazaros. So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, “Our friend Lazaros has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazaros is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazaros had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So 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?”
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you have heard me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that you did send me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazaros, come out.” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.