Illuminating Lent: Raising of Lazarus

February 14, 2016 – February 20, 2016


John 11:17, 21-27, 32-44

Listen to what word God has for you.




There are many details of this story that easily perplex us. Perhaps the most blaring question is, why does Jesus wait two days before traveling nearby to see his dear friend, Lazarus, who is ill? On the other hand, there are some details that seem more straightforward and therefore cause us to engage them less. For example, when Jesus encounters the mourners, we have the well known line: “Jesus began to weep” (John 11:35). This phrase has become the tagline for Jesus’ share in human emotions and his deep capacity for empathy and grief. Yet this instance of tears that Jesus sheds does not so obviously convey grief over the loss of his friend, because Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead after all. Instead, the passage says “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). He was grieved by their resignation to the finality of Lazarus’ death, by their allowance for death to have the final say.

Jesus came to liberate humanity from the grips of the death—both physically and spiritually. Exclaiming that he is both the Resurrection and the life, he promises not only to resurrect our bodies on the last day but also that each setback we have in life need not send us in a tailspin to a premature death. Belief in Christ and his promises are integral to abiding in the fullness of life. Even though we may continue to question Jesus’ timing and have different ideas of when and how he should act in our lives, let us remain confident that he will act.




When Jesus asks Mary and those accompanying her where they had laid Lazarus’ body, they respond, “Lord, come and see” (John 11:34). It is as if they are thinking that they must show Jesus the tomb in order for him to finally understand the permanence of Lazarus’ death. But Jesus is not satisfied, he commands them to remove the stone from the tomb. With the hope to deter him, Martha then warns Jesus of the stench, which is certain to accompany a body that has been lifeless now for four days. Hoping it would be enough for Jesus to lay eyes on the tomb, the last thing they wanted was for him to actually open it and disrupt their mourning ritual.

Have you ever grown so comfortable with the less than desirable parts of your life that when Jesus offers to touch them and breathe life back into them, you shutter at the thought? Have you grown weary in believing that Jesus can truly do anything for you? Do you ever want take Jesus by the hand and show him all the tumultuous things with which you are dealing so as to prove it is impossible to live with a spirit of hope? Jesus is not ignorant or indifferent to the injustice humans inflict upon one another nor the hardships we face. Just because he does not always intercede during the most critical phases of our suffering, he is still with us and will still restore us to greater wholeness. Where do you place your trust?




The death head moth situated near Lazarus’ figure brings to mind the idiom “like a moth to a flame,” serving to warn us of the dangers of our attractions. When modern journalism splashes the most horrific events that take place in our world across our pages and screens, we can easily succumb to belief that such traumatic occurrences are inevitably the norm. Instead of letting our culture lead us down the path of resignation to things that fail to bring us life, it is crucial to challenge our attractions and hold them up to see them as they are in the light of Christ. We empower the things on which we focus our attention.

As I acquaint myself with the view from within Lazarus’ tomb, I notice that these words “I am the Resurrection and the life” seem to be etched into the stone (John 11:25). But they clearly would not be visible until the stone is rolled away from the tomb and Jesus’ light floods through the tunnel. Because Jesus’ words are so much closer in the foreground than his tiny figure at the end of the tunnel, I am reminded how Jesus’ words often precede his actions in our lives. Many times we receive his promises, his covenant, and his truth before we see the fruits of Christ’s words. We often find ourselves in periods waiting and longing for further fulfillment. In the meantime, let us cling to his light. What words has Jesus written on your heart? Invite his light in today and see what awaits you.




Merciful Lord, you have created us with tender and impressionable hearts. Yet sometimes our circumstances harden our hearts toward you and toward one another. We erect barriers, walls, and fortresses out of self-protection only then to find ourselves imprisoned in isolation. As our gracious protector, show us the way out. We long to emerge from the darkness, but parts of us have grown comfortable here. Your light is alluring; your glory is attractive. Yet sometimes it seems to overwhelm us. You care for us through it all, even when our desire is to retreat from your presence. Thank you for respecting our boundaries and our freedom; your gentleness is astounding. As you call humanity away from the grips of death, and you summon us each by name, strengthen our resolve to accept your healing grace and the helping hands of those you send to unbind us. Gather your people, Lord, so that together we may unite our efforts to loosen the bonds of the most prevalent evils oppressing our brothers and sisters across the globe. We pray that in this season of Lent we may come into deeper alignment with your will and act accordingly. Fortify us so that we may not only point people toward the hope of the resurrection, but also share the good news that life begins anew daily when we abide in you.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.




Jesus, you said to Martha, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). And then you followed this with a question: “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26). Your voice carries over the centuries and your words reverberate within me as I empty myself before you. “Do you believe this? Do you believe me when I speak?” Your voice is gentle, not accusatory. But it is also eager, hopeful, as it is so evident how great your love is for me. I long to believe your words, Lord, more than just saying that I do. Help me in my unbelief. Release me from the cloths that bind me and immobilize me. Fill me with your powerful light that casts out any shadows of doubt. May it spill over and illuminate any darkness I encounter.



Becoming Christ-like

When Jesus told the disciples that he wanted to go to Judea to see Lazarus, they cautioned him because Jesus had just nearly escaped being stoned there by the Jews. He went anyway. When Jesus stood before Lazarus’ tomb, Martha tried to deter him from opening it. He proceeded anyway. Neither the threat of his death nor the ritual uncleanliness, which would occur from entering the tomb of a dead man, caused Jesus to waiver. May we, too, resist acclimating to the culture of death that seeks to entice us every which way we turn. Let us follow after Jesus, whose peaceful assurance to proceed without succumbing to fear is the type of determined presence our world craves.

Today and every day, Jesus summons us to come out. He encourages us to embody the purpose he intends for us. He invites us to rise, to welcome the help of those whose aid we need to unbind us as we recognize that we cannot do it on our own. Further, Jesus sends us to unbind those who are still bound.

Let us pray that we may free the mouths, hands, and feet of your faithful disciples, Lord, enabling all persons to serve you in the ways you have equipped us. And Jesus, as the objections and excuses arise within us as they inevitably will, amplify your truth in our hearts so that we may stand firm in your name. Pour out your blessings upon us so that we may be diligent in seeing your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.


Rachel Gabelman is a Master of Divinity candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. She serves as a graduate assistant with Seeing the Word.


2 thoughts on “Illuminating Lent: Raising of Lazarus

  1. Rachel and all with Seeing the Word,

    THANKS! These reflections are especially helpful for each of us, the readers, to identify with Jesus – fully human as we are – in his tears, in his desire to serve, in his potential delight to find out our God really does hear and live within us! Shalom! Greg Spofford, Little Falls

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