Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Lazarus Saturday

Volume 4 No. 209 April 9, 2014

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Resurrection of Lazzarus - Caravaggio
Resurrection of Lazarus by Caravaggio
Caravaggio’s painting depicts a dead man stunned by his sudden return to life.

 
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Foreword: Lessons From The Sign of Jesus Raising Lazarus by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

Raising of Lazarus is an important event in the Ministry of Jesus. For instance, it is the last known sign or miracle performed by Jesus before he underwent the passion, crucified, died, buried and resurrected. There are several important theological lessons we can learn from raising Lazarus. ...

2. Bible Readings for Lazarus Saturday (April 12)

3. Sermons for Lazarus Saturday (April 12)

Sermons for the Lazarus Saturday
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_Lazarus-Saturday.htm

4. Featured: I'll Take Back what the Devil Stole from Me - Homily for Lazarus Saturday by Msgr. Charles Pope

In today's Gospel We hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The story is a significant turning point in the ministry of Jesus for, as we shall see, it because of this incident that the Temple Leadership in Jerusalem resolves to have Jesus killed.

As is proper with all the gospel accounts we must not see this as merely an historical happening to people 2000 years ago. Rather we must recall that I am Lazarus, I am Martha and Mary. This is also the story of how Jesus is acting in my life. Let's look at this Gospel in stages and learn how the Lord acts to save us and raise us to new life. This gospel has six stages that describe what Jesus does to save us. ...

5. Lazarus, Come Forth! by Fr. Mark

The Gospel of the resurrection of Lazarus has, from the beginning, captivated the attention of the Church. As man, Christ the friend loved Lazarus with the tenderness of human affection; as God, Christ the Redeemer loves him with the indefectible charity of the Father and the Holy Ghost. As man, Christ shudders to hear of His friend's illness; as God, Christ rejoices, saying, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of man may be glorified by it" (Jn 11:4). ...

6. For the Love of Lazarus: Scripture Reflections on John 11:1-45 by Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.

The gospel story of the raising of Lazarus found in John 11 shows us why Jesus can love some friends and disciples more than others, why death is not natural and beautiful, the difference between resurrection and resuscitation, and the deeper meaning of Jesus' miracles or "signs" as they are called in the fourth gospel. ...

7. The Prayer of the Son by Fr. Mark

One cannot listen to the Gospel of Saint John, or read it, or meditate it in one's heart without being lifted, almost imperceptibly, into the prayer of Jesus to the Father: a prayer that rises on the wings of an unshakable confidence in the Father's readiness to hear us at every moment. So few of us pray as the Father would have us pray because we cling to our own prayers – narrow, myopic, half-hearted, constrained by our fears, and weighed down by our inability to trust. ...

8. Devotional Thoughts for The Saturday of the Raising of Lazar by Rev. Fr. Jose Daniel Paitel, Malankara World

This article is in Malayalam and is in pdf format. Please download and read.

9. Lazarus Is Us- Reflections on John 11:1-45 by Alyce McKenzie

Lazarus is us, bound by death in our current lives, called to life by Jesus who is the Light and the Life of the world. Jesus stands at the edge of our tomb, shouting "Come out!" We are to substitute our own name for that of Lazarus, hear his command, and walk into the light of day, pulling free of our grave clothes as we go. ...

10. Lazarus Narrative: People Who Believe in Jesus Find Eternal Life by William Loader

The point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever. ...

11. The Raising of Lazarus from the Dead

Martha speaks profound sorrow at the death of Lazarus, but it is tinged with a touch of blaming Jesus: "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died."

Where do I resent the losses in my life and somehow blame God for them, rather than seeing them as places where God's glory will be revealed? ...

12. Mary's Extravagant Gift by Max Lucado

She was the only one who believed him. Whenever he spoke of his death, the others shrugged or doubted, but Mary believed. Mary believed because he spoke with a firmness she'd heard before.

"Lazarus, come out!" he'd demanded, and her brother came out. After four days in a stone-sealed grave, he walked out.

And as Mary kissed the now-warm hands of her just-dead brother, she turned and looked. Tear streaks were dry and the teeth shone from beneath the beard. Jesus was smiling. And in her heart she knew she would never doubt his words.

13. Fourth Servant Song in Isaiah - Part IV: He Was Despised And Rejected by Bill Randles

It is the climax of human history, the apocalypse, the very end of the world. The Jewish people are surrounded on all sides by armies who have amassed themselves together to wipe them out! Israel's enemies have never been so seemingly close to achieving their goal. ...

In the fourth Servant Song, Isaiah predicts the heartfelt confession that the prodigal son nation of Israel, long estranged from her God, will make at that point in time. ...

14. Malankara World Passion Week Supplement

Malankara World has a supplement that provides detailed information about Passion Week including articles, prayers, sermons, etc. You will find it here:

Passion Week Supplement in Malankara World
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lent/Passion/Default.htm

Malankara World has developed a daily plan of bible readings, meditations, reflections, and prayers for Passion Week. You will find it here:

Today in Passion Week
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lent/Passion/Passion_Today_archives.htm

15. About Malankara World

Foreword: Lessons From The Sign of Jesus Raising Lazarus

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Editor-in-Chief, Malankara World

Raising of Lazarus is an important event in the Ministry of Jesus. For instance, it is the last known sign or miracle performed by Jesus before he underwent the passion, crucified, died, buried and resurrected. There are several important theological lessons we can learn from raising Lazarus. Unfortunately, in our church, Lazarus Saturday falls one day before Palm Sunday and the beginning of the Passion Week. So, it gets no attention. In this special issue of Malankara World Journal, we hope to explain the importance of this event. The articles in this issue, the sermons provided and the earlier issues of Malankara World Journal, taken together will provide a reasonably complete portrayal for this event. Let us briefly examine them.

Gospel: John 11:1-45

1. Jesus Took a Big Risk to Go To Bethany to See His Friend

The temple authorities were primed to catch Jesus and Jesus was virtually on hiding when the message from Bethany came. The disciples advised strongly against Jesus' trip. But Jesus went there anyway. He was a true friend. Jesus practiced what he preached: There is no greater love than a person sacrificing one's life for a friend. He paid for it within a week.

2. Ideal Intercession

Notice the message sent to Jesus by Martha and Mary. It is the model of all intercessory prayer:

"Lord, behold him whom Thou lovest is sick."

This prayer is similar to the prayer of the Mother of God at Cana.

"They have no wine." (John 2:3)

St. Mary was fully confident in Jesus' response even before He acted.

There is no need to say more. God is not interested in a half hour lecture of what and why. A simple prayer with faith is all that is needed. A prayer of intercession patterned after this prayer is guaranteed to touch the Heart of Jesus.

3. God May Not Answer Prayers Immediately. It will be answered in due time as per the will and plan of God.

Note here that Jesus did not go to Bethany immediately. He waited 4 days before starting the trip. For all the people, it was too late and was a lost cause. But we can learn a valuable lesson here about God. Just because we do not get a response to our prayers immediately, does not mean that God has ignored us.

4. Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, Had all the Qualities of Human Beings While He was on Earth

The heartbreaking scene in the Raising of Lazarus is when the bible says, "Jesus wept." It is the shortest verse in the bible. It talks volumes about Jesus, the friend. Jesus saw Mary and all the Jews who came to console the sisters crying and he was filled with compassion and cried with them. Jesus knew that he is going to raise Lazarus from death; so the weeping was unnecessary. We learn a very valuable lesson here. We have a savior who cries with us when we are going through trials and tribulations and join our joy when when we are happy. He was fully human when he was in this earth. (See the article by Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D. to explore this further.)

5. Jesus Uses the Occasion to Declare His Fifth "I AM" statement

As described in Malankara World Journal Issue 200, Jesus, during his public ministry, made seven "I AM" statements. These are:

1) I am the bread of life. - John 6:35, 48

2) I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. - John 8:12

3) I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. - John 10:9

4) I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. - John 10:11

5) I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. - John 11:25

6) I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. - John 14:6

7) I am the true vine: and my Father is the husbandman. - John 15:1

The fifth "I AM" statement, viz., 'I am the resurrection, and the life' was made in this context. The resurrection of Lazarus was a sign of the upcoming resurrection of Jesus himself. Jesus is not telling us that we will avoid a physical death (In fact, Lazarus had died later). Jesus is promising us that He is the gateway to an everlasting life and fellowship with God in heaven. He is interested in eternal life not the short life here in this earth. We cannot gain eternal life without knowing Jesus. We can be physically alive, but spiritually dead. We will be on our way to hell, unless we receive the Resurrection and the Life from our Lord.

8) Martha's Important Faith Pronouncement

We know about the faith proclamation of St. Thomas, our Patron Saint, "My Lord and My God" after the resurrection of Jesus. We also know the famous declaration of St. Peter that "Jesus is the son of the living God." But most people are unaware of the important pronouncement made by Martha here that is a very important faith declaration. Let us examine John 11:21-27 for the context:

Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of 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 may die, he shall 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, who is to come into the world.
John 11:21-27(NKJV)

Here it is:

She (Martha) said to Him (Jesus),
Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.

An earth-shattering faith statement. Martha had no doubt that Jesus was the Son of God.

9) We Learn When and How To Pray

Jesus taught us that before we embark on anything, we should pray. He taught that by example. Before he broke the bread and fish, prior to feeding the multitude, Jesus looked at heaven and prayed.

When he broke the bread at Emmaus as well as when he appeared to disciples, he prayed.

He prayed for the disciples prior to his crucifixion.

He regularly prayed to God, going to some remote quiet areas.

Before his Passion he prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane.

Before the Last Supper, he prayed.

Here also Jesus prayed before raising Lazarus. Let us take a look at John 11:41-43

And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”

Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”- John 11:41-43 (NKJV)

Jesus had his eyes lifted up to heaven when he prayed.

Father Mark explains the significance of this in his article in this Journal. Let us take a look:

Jesus lifts up His eyes.

By lifting His eyes towards heaven,
Jesus teaches us that prayer is nothing else
than the lifting of the heart and mind to God.

The direction of His eyes reveal the movement of His Heart.
Everything in the Son is turned towards His Father.
There is not a moment in His earthly life when He, the Word
who was in the beginning, is not God facing God.

Instructed by His example, the Church directs that in the most
sacred part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in that "Holy of Holies"
that is the Canon of the Mass, the priest, in imitation of Jesus,
lift his eyes towards the Father.

Here, the priest functions as the Head of the whole worshipping body,
the congregation kneeling behind him.

When the eyes of the priest are raised heavenward, the hearts of the
faithful are also drawn upward,
for the eyes of the head determine the orientation of the whole body.

There is no detail in the liturgy of the Church that is of no consequence.
The lifting of the eyes heavenward sets in motion the whole Church,
that is, the multitude of those who "being of but one mind and one soul"
lay aside all earthly cares and forsake all that weighs upon their hearts to
enter with the Son, the High Priest, into the sanctuary of heaven.

Jesus always thanked Father first. His prayer was an intimate communication with the Father, not just a set of demands like many pray. (See Fr. Mark's article for more details) Our Holy Qurbana incorporates many of these elements of prayer taught by Jesus.

10) Jesus also taught us that we cannot model faith in God until we have developed a consistent dependence on God. Once that faith is established, opportunities will arise when others can't help but see it.

In this case, before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he prayed, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me" (John 11:42).

Jesus' faith in his Father was exercised in a way that demonstrated the power of God in a seemingly hopeless situation. All the people gathered around there were discouraging Jesus from rolling the stone away as the person was dead for 4 days and it started smelling due to decay of the flesh etc. The sisters were telling him that if he was there before Lazarus died, there was hope. But there is no hope anymore.

This is the type of instances we can see the power and glory of God. This is faith in the midst of illness, death and deep despair. We need to cultivate the kind of dependence on God that others can see in real-life situations. Such a faith is not cultivated during a crisis, but before a crisis. It's developed during routine days. The Christians who cultivates such a faith will provide a role model of steadfast dependence on God that no one will forget like those assembled on that day at the home of Martha and Mary at Bethany.

There are many other lessons we can learn from this long chapter of John. Needless to say, it is an important chapter and we need to give more attention to its teachings.

The cry of Our Lord before the tomb of Lazarus echoes still in our hearts. "Lazar, come forth!" (John 11:43). Hear the immensity of this cry. As discussed by Alyce McKenzie in her article "Lazarus Is Us - Reflections on John 11:1-45" in today's Journal, this call is addressed to each of us. Who among us is not Lazarus, called out of the shadow of death into the light of day, out of the bands of death's confining shroud into the freedom of movement in the Holy Spirit? According to Saint Bernard, if you are called to a life of penance, you are Lazarus. What a powerful statement!

Let me conclude with a quote from Daniel B. Clendenin:

Winter will not last forever; spring will come. Lenten darkness, repentance and sorrow have their rightful place with us, but Easter resurrection is our destiny. However painful our current circumstances, and however agonizing our honest questions - about job loss, wayward children, financial disaster, chronic sickness - ultimately things will get worse, for nothing can compare to the horrible specter of death that awaits us all. But Christian faith believes that God in Christ will conquer and transform even that ultimate enemy death. For the time being, we confidently "cast every anxiety upon him, because he cares for us" (1 Peter 5:7).
Daniel B. Clendenin, The Journey with Jesus

Lazarus Saturday in Church
Bible Readings for Lazarus Saturday (April 12)

Sermons for Lazarus Saturday (April 12)
This Week's Features

Featured: I'll Take Back what the Devil Stole from Me - Homily for Lazarus Saturday

by Msgr. Charles Pope

Gospel: John 11:1-46

In today's Gospel We hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The story is a significant turning point in the ministry of Jesus for, as we shall see, it because of this incident that the Temple Leadership in Jerusalem resolves to have Jesus killed.

As is proper with all the gospel accounts we must not see this as merely an historical happening to people 2000 years ago. Rather we must recall that I am Lazarus, I am Martha and Mary. This is also the story of how Jesus is acting in my life.

Let's look at this Gospel in stages and learn how the Lord acts to save us and raise us to new life. This gospel has six stages that describe what Jesus does to save us:

I. HE PERMITS

Sometimes there are trials in our life by God's mysterious design to bring us to greater things. The Lord permits these trials and difficulties for various reasons. But, if we are faithful, every trial is ultimately for our glory and the glory of God. The text says,

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him saying, "Master, the one you love is ill." When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Notice therefore that Jesus does not rush to prevent the illness of Lazarus but permits it now for something greater, that God's Glory in Jesus be manifest, and, we may add, for Lazarus' own good and his share in God's glory.

It is this way with us as well. We do not always understand what God is up to in our life. His ways are often mysterious, even troubling to us. But our faith teaches us that his mysterious permission of our difficulties is ultimately for our good and for our glory.

Scripture says,

  1. Rejoice in this. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials. But this so that your faith, more precious than any fire tried gold, may lead to praise, honor and glory when Jesus Christ appears. (1 Peter 1: 10)
  2. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)
  3. For our light and momentary troubles are producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:17-18)

An old gospel hymn says:

Trials dark on every hand, and we cannot understand,
all the way that God will lead us to that blessed promised land.

But He guides us with his eye and we follow till be die,
and we'll understand it better, by and by.

By and by, when the morning comes, and all the saints of God are gathered home,
we'll tell the story of how we've overcome, and we'll understand it better by and by.

For now it is enough for us to know that God permits our struggles for a season and for a reason.

II. HE PAUSES

Here to we confront a mystery. Sometimes God says "wait." Again, this is to prepare us for greater things than that for which we ask. The text says,

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.

Note that the text says that Jesus waits because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. This of course is paradoxical since we expect love to rush to the aid of the afflicted.

Yet Scripture often counsels us to wait:

  1. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. (Ps 27:14)
     
  2. For thus says the Lord God, the holy one of Israel, "By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet an in trust, your strength lies. (Isaiah 30:15)
     
  3. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance…God's patience is directed to our salvation. (2 Pet 3:9)

Thus, somehow our waiting is tied to strengthening us, and preparing us for something greater. Ultimately we need God's patience in order for us to come to full repentance, so it may not be wise to ask God to rush things. Yet still his delay often mystifies us, especially when the need is urgent.

Note too how Jesus' delay here enables something even greater to take place. For, it is one thing to heal an ailing man. It is another and greater thing to raise a man who has been dead four days. To use a meal analogy, Jesus is preparing a feast. Do you want a microwave dinner or a great feast? Great feasts take longer to prepare. Jesus delays but he's preparing something great.

For ourselves we can only ask for the grace to hold out. An old gospel song says, Lord Help me to Hold out, until my change comes. Another song says, Hold on Just a little while longer, every thing's gonna' be alright.

III. HE PAYS

Despite the design of God and his apparent delay, he is determined to bless us and save us. Jesus is determined to go and help Lazarus even though he puts himself in great danger. Notice in the following text how the apostles are anxious about going to Judea. For, it is a fact that some there are plotting to kill Jesus. In order to help Lazarus, Jesus must put himself at great risk. The Text says:

Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?"Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him." So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved." But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."

We must never forget the cost that Jesus has paid for our healing and salvation. Scripture says, You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Pet 1:18).

Indeed, the apostles concerns are born out when we see that, because he raised Lazarus from the dead, the Temple leaders from that point on plot to kill Jesus (cf John 11:53). It is, of course, dripping with irony that they should plot to kill Jesus for raising a man from the dead. We can only thank the Lord who, for our sake, endured even death on a cross and purchased our salvation by his own blood.

IV. HE PRESCRIBES

The Lord will die to save us. But there is only one way that saving love can reach us and that is through our faith. Faith opens the door to God's blessings and it is a door we must open by God's grace. Thus Jesus inquires into the faith of Martha and later of Mary. The text says

Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."

Jesus prescribes faith for there is no other way. Our faith and our soul are more important to God than our bodies and creature comforts. For what good is it to gain the whole world and lose our soul? We tend to focus on physical things like our bodies, our health and our things. But God focuses on the spiritual things. And so before raising Lazarus and dispelling grief, Jesus checks the condition of Martha's faith and elicits an act of faith: "Do you believe this?" ….Yes, Lord, I have come to believe.

Scripture connects faith to seeing and experiencing great things:

  1. All things are possible to him who believes. Mk 9:23
     
  2. If you had faith as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you." (Mt 17:20)
     
  3. And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Matt 13:58)
     
  4. When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" "Yes, Lord," they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you" (Mat 9:28)

So Jesus has just asked you and me a question: "Do you believe this?" And how will you answer? Now be careful. I know how we should answer. But how do we really and truthfully answer?

V. HE'S PASSIONATE

Coming upon the scene Jesus is described as deeply moved, a perturbed, as weeping. The text says,

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see." And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him." But some of them said, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?" So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me."

In his human heart Jesus experiences the full force of the loss and the blow that death delivers. That he weeps is something of mystery since he will raise Lazarus in moments. But for this moment Jesus enters and experiences grief and loss with us. It's full force comes over him and he weeps, so much so that the bystanders say "See how much he loved him."

But there is more going on here. The English text also describes Jesus as being perturbed. The Greek word here is Greek word ἐμβριμάομαι (embrimaomai), which means literally, to snort with anger; to have great indignation. It is a very strong word that includes the notion of being moved to sternly admonish. What is this anger of Jesus and to who is it directed? It is hard to know exactly, but the best answer would seem to be that he is angry of death, and what sin has done. For it was by sin that suffering and death entered the world. It is almost as though Jesus is on the front lines of the battle and has a focused anger against Satan and what he has done. For Scripture says, by the envy of the devil death entered the world. (Wisdom 2:23). And God has said, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?' (Ez 33:11).

I do remember at the death of loved ones that I experienced not only sorrow but also anger. Death should NOT be. But there it is, it glares back at us, taunts and pursues us.

Yes, Jesus experiences the full range of what we do here. And out of his sorrow and anger, he is moved to act on our behalf. God's wrath is his passion to set things right. And Jesus is about to act.

VI. HE PREVAILS

In the end Jesus always wins. And you can go to the end of the Bible and see that Jesus wins there too. You might just as well get on the winning team. He will not be overcome by Satan, even when all seems lost. God is a good God, he is a great God, he can do anything but fail. Jesus can make a way out of no way. The text says,

He cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go free."

I have it on the best of authority that as Lazarus came out of the tomb he was singing a gospel song: Faithful is our God! I'm reaping the harvest God promised me, take back what devil stole from me, and I rejoice today, for I shall recover it all!

But notice something important here. Although Jesus raises Lazarus, and gives him new life, Jesus also commands the bystanders (this means you) to untie Lazarus and let him go free. So Christ raises us, but he has a work for the Church to do, to untie those he has raised in baptism and let them go free.

To have a personal relationship with Jesus is essential, but it is also essential to have a relationship to the Church. For after raising Lazarus (us) he entrusts Lazarus to the care of others. Jesus speaks to the Church, to parents, to priests, catechists, and all members of the Church and gives this standing order regarding the souls he has raised to new life: Untie them and let them go free.

We are Lazarus and were dead in our sin. But we have been raised to new life. And yet, we can still be bound by the effects of sin. And this why we need the sacraments, scripture, prayer, and other ministry of the Church through catechesis, prayer, preaching and teaching. Lazarus' healing wasn't a one and your done scenario and neither is ours.

We are also the bystanders – And just as we who are in need of being untied and set free, who are also members of the Church, also have this obligation to others. Parents and elders must untie their children and let them go free by God's grace, pastors their flocks. I too, as a priest, have realized how my people have helped to untie me and let me go free, how they have strengthened my faith, encouraged me, admonished me and restored me.

This is the Lord's mandate to the Church regarding every soul he has raised: untie him and let him go free. This is the Lord's work, but just as Jesus involved the bystanders then, he still involves the Church (which includes us).

Yes, faithful is our God. I shall recover it all.

Source: Archdiocese of Washington Blog

Lazarus, Come Forth!

by Fr. Mark, Vultus Christi

Gospel: John 11:1-45

The Divine and Mystic Gospel

During these last days of Lent, the Church opens for us the Gospel of Saint John, the divine and mystic Gospel, the Gospel that, on every page, shines with the brightness of Christ's divinity. The Lenten series of Johannine gospels are addressed to the penitents, men and women who, having fallen, seek to rise again, washed in the pure water of the Spirit, and infused anew with the life-giving Blood of the Lamb. The Lenten liturgy is profitable to us only insofar as we identify inwardly with the catechumens and penitents, only insofar as we walk with them towards the mysteries of regeneration and reconciliation that ever flow from the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.

Water

In John 4:14, we heard the promise of living water made by Christ to the Samaritan woman at the well. Each of us is the Samaritan woman; to each of us is disclosed the mystery of the thirst of Christ and to each of us is promised the "spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Jn 4:14).

Light

Last Sunday, we witnessed the drama of the man born blind to whom Christ gave sight, light, and new life (Jn 9:11). Each of us is that man born blind; to each of us is promised and given the gladsome light of Christ.

Life

Today, we follow a very human Christ, a tender and weeping Christ, to the tomb of one greatly loved (Jn 11:34-35). It is four days since the burial of Lazarus; already his body has begun to stink. Each of us is that stinking corpse, bound tightly in the shroud, and belonging already to the darkness of the netherworld.

Divine Promises

Listen with the catechumen's eager ears to the glorious promises of Ezekiel's prophecy! "Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live" (Ez 37:12-14).

These promises, fulfilled once in the resurrection of Lazarus, are fulfilled again and again in the life of the Church, and principally in the night of Resurrection, in the great baptismal Vigil that Saint Augustine calls the "mother of all vigils."

Three things are promised, three things are given to every Lazarus of every age and of every place:

the resurrection from the grave,
the experience of the Risen Christ, Lord of Life and Victor over death, and
the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.

What was promised by the mouth of the prophet is fulfilled in Christ. What is fulfilled in Christ the Head is actualized again and again for the members of His Body in the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church. So often as Lazarus is baptized, chrismated, nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ, reconciled and healed there is even now triumph over the grave and the return from corruption, there is even now the experience of Christ the Lord of Life in the face of death, there is even now the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit whose sweet fragrance dispels forever the sickening stench of the tomb.

Lazarus

How do we come to identify with Lazarus? Is it by an exercise of imagination? Is it by a trick of the intelligence? Is it the effect of overheated emotions or pious sentimentality? The liturgy, let it be said once and for all, deals not in sentimentality, but in reality! The reality of Lazarus, dead and four days in the tomb, discloses to us the horror — and the glory — of our own reality. The sacraments constitute the ultimate reality concealed and revealed in sacred signs, in matter perceptible to the senses yet charged with the divinizing energies of the Holy Ghost.

Christ, True God and True Man

The Gospel of the resurrection of Lazarus has, from the beginning, captivated the attention of the Church. As man, Christ the friend loved Lazarus with the tenderness of human affection; as God, Christ the Redeemer loves him with the indefectible charity of the Father and the Holy Ghost. As man, Christ shudders to hear of His friend's illness; as God, Christ rejoices, saying, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of man may be glorified by it" (Jn 11:4). As man, Christ was deeply moved in spirit and wept over the friend He loved (Jn 11:33-35); as God, He grieved over a humanity held in death's cold grip and infecting all creation with the stench of evil. As man, Christ asked, "Where have you laid him?" (Jn 11:34); as the God whose gaze searches the heavens and probes the depths of the earth, He already knew. As man, Christ stood before the stone-sealed tomb and shuddered; as God, He "cried out with a loud voice" (Jn 11:43), a voice that caused Hades to tremble, that shook the power of the Enemy, that overturned the infernal abodes.

Lazarus, Come Forth!

The Communion Antiphon of today's Mass is, without any doubt, one of the most powerful marriages of text and melody found in the repertoire of Catholic worship. "When the Lord saw the sisters of Lazarus in tears near the tomb, He wept in the presence of the Jews and cried, 'Lazarus, come forth.' And out he came, hands and feet bound, the man who had been dead for four days" (Jn 11: 33, 35, 43, 39). All description of it falls short; one must hear this text repeated again and again as the faithful make their way to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Better yet, one must sing it allowing it to impress and express the power of Christ calling each us out of the tomb. "Lazare, veni foras! — Lazarus, come forth!"

Out of Darkness

Today, here and now, as we receive His life-giving Body and Blood, Christ stands fearless before the tomb of our lives, calling us forth, summoning us out of darkness and the stench of death into the brightness and fragrance of life with Him, facing the Father, in the Holy Spirit. "Unbind him, and let him go" (Jn 11:44) is His command to the ministering Church, that those delivered from the grave may live unfettered and free in the light of day.

The words of Saint Paul are eucharistically fulfilled. "If Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He Who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit Who dwells in you" (Rom 8:9-11).

The Most Holy Eucharist

Let us know ourselves to be Lazarus that we might know Christ as the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25).

Already, the altar beckons; by the stone of the altar are we freed from the stone tomb.

The Most Holy Eucharist is Christ in us.
The Most Holy Eucharist is every spirit vivified in the righteousness of Christ Who alone is holy, Who alone is Lord.
The Most Holy Eucharist is the gift of the Spirit;
the Most Holy Eucharist is the pledge of resurrection;
the Most Holy Eucharist is the fragrance of life dispelling the stench of death;
the Most Holy Eucharist is the song of victory emerging "out of the depths" (Ps 130:1) to fill the heavens and the earth with glory.

"The teacher is here and is calling for you" (Jn 11:28).
Like Mary of Bethany, let us rise quickly and go to Him.

Source: Fr. Mark, Vultus Christi.
© 2013-2014 The Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. All Rights Reserved.

For the Love of Lazarus:
Scripture Reflections on John 11:1-45

by Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.

Gospel: John 11:1-45

The gospel story of the raising of Lazarus found in John 11 shows us why Jesus can love some friends and disciples more than others, why death is not natural and beautiful, the difference between resurrection and resuscitation, and the deeper meaning of Jesus' miracles or "signs" as they are called in the fourth gospel.

Some find it hard to accept that God would love some people more than others. That wouldn't be fair, they say.

But God became man. If he did not love some more than others, Jesus wouldn't be fully human. For human beings have family and friends. While we can do good and even risk our lives for a stranger, we have special bonds of intimacy and affection with a rather small circle. Out of twelve, Jesus had one especially beloved. In the Gospel of this beloved disciple, we learn that Jesus had one family who was particularly beloved in this way. The family was that of Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus.

So it was a surprise to all that Jesus did not come immediately when he heard that Lazarus was ill. Of course he was a busy man. But Jesus had dropped everything many times before to heal strangers. This, on the other hand, was one of his dearest friends. Not to worry, he explained to his disciples. This sickness would not end in death.

Imagine their surprise when he tells them a few days later that Lazarus is dead and that it's time to visit his grave. Jesus knew what he was going to do. Yet when he was met by a distraught Mary and her weeping companions, he did not rebuke them for crying. He did not say they should wear white and rejoice that their brother had finally gone home to heaven. No, he wept with them.

Some people accept death as a natural part of human life. Others think death to be merely a portal to eternity. Jesus saw death as an enemy. His Father had never intended for us to experience it. In fact, he forbade Adam and Eve only one thing – a fruit that would make them subject to it. Death came into the world through the envy of the devil, not through the plan of God. Death wrenches soul from body. It rips loved ones from the embrace of their families. So in the presence of those wounded by death's sting, Jesus weeps.

Jesus' miracles in the gospels always spring from his compassion for the suffering. But he always has more in mind than helping just the victim lying before him. His miraculous works in John's gospel are called signs because they point beyond themselves to something even greater he will do to gain a greater benefit for all.

This is why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die in the first place. Because when he called him forth from the tomb, Jesus was making clear why he had come. His teaching was of course sublime. And his cures were life-changing. But wise and healthy people still face the horror of death. If Jesus were really the savior, he had to save us from the grave. And the salvation would have to be a permanent one. Lazarus' resuscitation was only a stay of execution. A few years later, the mourners would have to assemble around his bedside once again.

So, in the presence of the great crowd assembled for the funeral, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. This demonstration of Jesus' power over death was a sign of his own coming resurrection, and of Lazarus's and ours as well.

This is the last recorded miracle or "sign" in John's gospel. Jesus knew it would be. You and I might expect that the news of this miracle, brought back to Jerusalem by numerous eye-witnesses, would lead to the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Messiah. But the Lord knew it would have the exact opposite effect. It demonstrated to his enemies just how great a threat he was. They had to act fast to stop this sort of thing from getting out of hand.

But that was all part of his plan. For he was in total control. He planned to lay his life down willingly, to experience the horrible torture of crucifixion, the bitter wrenching of body from soul and friend from friend. He was willing to do this because by means of it, he knew he would accomplish more for us than he had for Lazarus–a victory over death that would last forever

About the Author

Dr. D’Ambrosio often appears on the EWTN and is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington. visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com

The Prayer of the Son

by Fr. Mark, Vultus Christi

Saint John's is the divine and mystic Gospel:
its every page shines
with the brightness of the Face of Christ,
revealing the glory of the Father.

Its every page burns
the fire of the Heart of Jesus
revealing the Father's merciful love.
Saint John's Gospel is alive
with the prayer of Jesus to the Father.

One cannot listen to the Gospel of Saint John,
or read it, or meditate it in one's heart
without being lifted, almost imperceptibly,
into the prayer of Jesus to the Father:
a prayer that rises on the wings of an unshakable confidence
in the Father's readiness to hear us at every moment.
So few of us pray as the Father would have us pray
because we cling to our own prayers
– narrow, myopic, half-hearted,
constrained by our fears,
and weighed down by our inability to trust.
Jesus, however, would have us pray as He prays.
Even more than that,
He would have us open our hearts
to His own prayer to the Father;
the bold and trusting prayer of the Son,
the sacrificial and all-powerful prayer
of the Eternal High Priest.

Jesus would infuse His own prayer into our souls
and, by the action of the Holy Ghost,
so draw us into His own relationship with the Father
that He will pray in us,
and we in Him,
and the Father, seeing us in prayer
hearing our words,
attentive to our groanings,
and counting our tears
as so many pearls for the treasury of the Kingdom,
will see on our faces the Face of the Son,
the Eternal High Priest,
and hear in our every heartbeat
the echo of His.

There is much in today's Gospel
that solicits my attention
and almost begs to be preached.
There is, for instance,
the message sent to Jesus by Martha and Mary,
the model of all intercessory prayer:

"Lord, behold him whom Thou lovest is sick."
How like the prayer of the Mother of God at Cana
is this prayer of two women, friends of Jesus,
fully confident in His response even before He gives it.
"They have no wine." (Jn 2:3)
"Lord, behold him whom Thou lovest is sick."
There is no need to say more.
A prayer of intercession patterned after this prayer
cannot fail to touch the Heart of Jesus.

I could also linger over the message that Martha
whispers into Mary's ear:

"The Master is here, and calleth for thee." (Jn 11:28)
This is the very message that everything in our churches
whispers to the believing heart:
the doors of the Church says it,
the Holy Water at the entrance of the Church says it,
the flicker of the sanctuary lamp says it,
the centrality of the tabernacle says it.
"The Master is here, and calleth for thee." (Jn 11:28)
How can you or I remain indifferent to such an appeal?

I could preach about the tears of Jesus:
the tears of the God-Man,
the tears that reveal the Divine Sensitivity of the Human Heart of God,
the tears that show us the Divine capacity for human friendship,
the tears that, falling upon our stony, hardened hearts,
soften them, change them, and wash them clean.

There is much more in today's Gospel
that begs to be preached, repeated, prayed
and held in our hearts.
Every line, in fact, is a vein of purest gold
waiting to be mined for the treasury of Mother Church.

All of this being said,
today I am drawn irresistibly to verses 41 and 42
of this eleventh chapter of Saint John.
"And Jesus, lifting up His eyes said:
‘Father, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast heard me.
And I know that Thou hearest me always;
but because of the people who stand about have I said it,
that they may believe that Thou hast sent me." (Jn 11:41-42).

Jesus lifts up His eyes.
By lifting His eyes towards heaven,
Jesus teaches us that prayer is nothing else
than the lifting of the heart and mind to God.
The direction of His eyes
reveal the movement of His Heart.
Everything in the Son is turned towards His Father.
There is not a moment in His earthly life
when He, the Word who was in the beginning,
is not God facing God.
Instructed by His example,
the Church directs that in the most sacred part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
in that "Holy of Holies" that is the Canon of the Mass,
the priest, in imitation of Jesus,
lift his eyes towards the Father.
Here, the priest functions as the Head of the whole
worshipping body,
the congregation kneeling behind him.

When the eyes of the priest are raised heavenward,
the hearts of the faithful are also drawn upward,

for the eyes of the head
determine the orientation of the whole body.
There is no detail in the liturgy of the Church
that is of no consequence.
The lifting of the eyes heavenward
sets in motion the whole Church,
that is, the multitude of those who
"being of but one mind and one soul" (Ac 4:4)
lay aside all earthly cares
and forsake all that weighs upon their hearts
to enter with the Son, the High Priest,
into the sanctuary of heaven.
‘Father, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast heard me."

Here is Saint John's echo of that admirable thanksgiving of the Son
in the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke:
"In that same hour, He rejoiced in the Holy Ghost,
and said: I confess to Thee, O Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
because Thou hast hidden these things
from the wise and prudent,
and hast revealed them to little ones.
Yea, Father,
for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight." (Lk 10:21)

The prayer of the Son to the Father
is an outpouring of thanksgiving:

every utterance of the Son says to the Father:
I praise Thee,
I bless Thee,
I adore Thee,
I glorify Thee,
I give Thee thanks for Thy great glory.

Is this not the hymn of His Bride the Church
that will set all our bells ringing
in the night of Holy Pascha?
And where did the Church learn her language of thanksgiving
if not in the school of the Heart of Jesus,
her High Priest and her Spouse?
There is never a moment when the prayer of the Son
does not capture
the full and infinitely loving attention of His Father.
What was from all eternity
– the ineffable conversation of the Father with the Son,
and the Son with the Father –
is actualized for us here and now
in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass, being the Son in dialogue with the Father,
being, even more, the Son handing Himself over to death
the Son immolated,
the Son sacrificed, albeit in an unbloody manner,
for our sakes
and for the Father's glory,
authorizes every boldness in prayer.
There is nothing that the Mass cannot obtain.

Saint John Fisher said that
"He who goes about
to take the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from the Church,
plots no less a calamity
than if he tried to snatch the sun from the universe."
Were the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
to cease on this earth of our ours,
we would be plunged into a darkness
as terrible as if the sun, the moon, and the stars
were extinguished in the firmament.
And why?
Because the Mass is the Eternal Father
captivated by the prayer of the Son:
Christ's prayer in us
and our prayer in Him.

"Because of the people who stand about have I said it,
that they may believe that Thou hast sent me."
Our Lord prays aloud
not because the Father needs to hear His human voice,
but because He would have us hear Him pray.
Hearing Him pray with such boldness,
with such filial confidence,
with such priestly majesty,
how can we not believe
that He who prays
is the Resurrection and the Life?

The Son's prayer to the Father
is uninterrupted,

ceaseless from before the beginning of time
and into the infinite unfolding of eternity.
This is the prayer that He articulates
for our sakes
in front of the tomb of Lazarus,
so that we, confronted by the stench of our sins,
bound in bands of our vices,
shrouded in our self-absorption,
and faced with the inexorable reality of death,
may be consoled and liberated by His prayer
and make His prayer our own
in this, the valley of the shadow of death,

Tomorrow evening, we will enter into Passiontide;
the following week called Great and Holy
will be for you and for me
a progressive entrance
into the prayer of Christ to the Father.
Christ will pray in us
and we in Him
at every stage of His bitter Passion,

in the seven last words from the Cross,
in the stillness of Holy Saturday,
and then in the glory of the resurrection
when the Son, waking from the sleep of death,
will open His eyes to see the Father bent over the tomb
as a father bends over the cradle of his first-born.

Open your hearts then
to the prayer of Christ.

Receive it, distilled by the liturgy of His Bride the Church,
and having received it
let it become in you ceaseless and uninterrupted
the pulse of your life in God,
your heartbeat, your life's breath.
It is time to go the altar.
The Master is here and calleth for us.
Let us go to meet Him:
our Victim and our Priest.

© 2013-2014 The Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. All Rights Reserved.

Devotional Thoughts for The Saturday of the Raising of Lazar

By Rev. Fr. Jose Daniel Paitel, Malankara World Board Member

This article is in Malayalam and is in pdf format. Please download and read.

Lazarus Is Us- Reflections on John 11:1-45

by Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos

Gospel: John 11:1-45

Until recently, I have seen this story of the raising of Lazarus as an inaccessible and, in some respects, unappealing story. Lazarus is not fleshed out as a character. All we know about him is that Jesus loved him and he got sick and died. His sisters, whom we have met in Luke's gospel, seem a little passive aggressive. Their initial note doesn't ask Jesus to come. It just informs him of their brother's illness. Then, when he approaches their town, they each, separately, run out and lay the identical guilt trip on him. "Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died."

As for Jesus, he is never more certain about the panoramic big picture than here. Lazarus' illness will not end in death, and it will be for the glory of the Son of God. He is, at the same time, seldom more disturbed by the sights and sounds of a specific scene: the sound of mourners wailing and the stench of death.

So for many years, I have read this text and thought hmm, this is odd. And read on.

So much for true confessions. This past week, I have had an epiphany. It is probably one you the reader have already had, and if so, I apologize in advance for pointing out what has long been obvious to you.

The epiphany is that we are to see ourselves in Lazarus and see the miracle of his restoration of physical life as the beginning of our entry into eternal life that begins the moment we accept Jesus' offer of relationship with us.

Lazarus Is Us

The sequence of the Gospel of John is the opposite of the children's game "Show and Tell." It is "Tell and Show." The Prologue tells us that Jesus is the light and life of the world (Jn 1:4, 5). The giving of sight to the man born blind (Jn 9) and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11) show us Jesus giving light and life to particular human beings. We are invited to see ourselves in them and him in our lives.

We are to see ourselves in Lazarus, whose name, a shortened form of Eleazar, means "God helps." He is from a town whose name, Bethany, means "House of Affliction." So God helps one who suffers from affliction. John takes a friendship between Jesus and this family and an event that has the quality of reminiscence and shapes it to his theological purpose (Brown, 431). Lazarus is the "one Jesus loves"; he represents all those whom Jesus loves, which includes you and me and all humankind. This story, then, is the story of our coming to life from death in this present moment, not just in a future event.

The Fourth Gospel repeatedly uses the physical realm as a metaphorical pointer to the spiritual realm. Water is a metaphor for the quenching of our spiritual thirst through Jesus' presence; Jesus is the living water (Jn 4:14). The bread Jesus multiplies to feed the crowd is a metaphor for the satisfaction of our spiritual hunger that Jesus brings; Jesus is the Bread from Heaven (Jn 6:35). Sight is a metaphor for the spiritual vision and clarity that Jesus brings; Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 8:12, and chapter 9 where Jesus gives sight to a man born blind). Here, in chapter 11, the restoration of physical life is a metaphor for breaking free from the bonds of spiritual death into the gift of eternal life that Jesus brings. Jesus is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25-6: "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.").

Jesus responds to Lazarus' illness with equanimity. He says that "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" (Jn 11:4). He is not expressing his hope that, because of the miracle he is about to perform, he will be admired and praised. "God's glory" is a reference to Jesus' own resurrection. His raising of Lazarus from the dead will speed his own death, which will lead to his resurrection, in which we all participate.

Convoluted Conversations

The disciples respond to news of Lazarus' illness with indifference. Like most of the people in John's gospel, they operate at the physical, literal level. When Jesus says that Lazarus is "asleep," they don't get that he means he is dead. When Jesus suggests a journey to "wake him up," the disciples question his judgment. After all, if Lazarus is sleeping, they figured that that's a good sign that the worst of his illness has past, and, besides, doesn't Jesus realize the danger that awaits him in Judea? (Jn 11:8)

Then Jesus resorts to plain speech. "Lazarus is dead." Thomas gets it. He gets that Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead will speed his own death. "Let us also go, so that we may die with him." (Him refers to Jesus, not Lazarus.)

When Jesus approaches Bethany, another convoluted, miscommunicated conversation awaits him, this time with Martha, Lazarus' sister. She runs out to meet him and lays her guilt trip on him. "Lord, if you had been here . . ." (Jn 11:21). He replies, "Your brother will rise again." She thinks he means at the last days. The belief in the resurrection of the body had been introduced a couple of hundred years B.C.E. in the Book of Daniel. Espoused by the Pharisees but not the Sadducees, it was widely accepted by the common people of Jesus' day (Brown, 434). So she thinks he is just saying something that people say at funerals to comfort the grieving family.

But he is not just assuring her of the resurrection at the last day, though the gospel of John includes that promise (6:54, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day."). He is affirming the "realized eschatology" of John 5: 24: "Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life."

The detail that Lazarus had been dead four days by the time Jesus got there is meant to underscore that he was beyond resuscitation. The rabbis believed that the soul hovered over the body for three days and after that, there was no hope of resuscitation (Brown. 423).

Come and See

"Where have you laid him?" Jesus asks the crowd. They say, "Lord, come and see" (Jn 11:35). It is hard not to flashback to 1:39 when would-be disciples were seeking Jesus out, asking, "Lord, where are you staying?" And he responds, "Come and see." His invitation to us is, "Come from your places of death and see my light and life." Here, as a prelude to raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus is willing, on our behalf, to come and see death face to face, up close and personal.

His response is to be "greatly disturbed in his spirit" (11:33). Other places in the gospels when Jesus shows this kind of emotional, spiritual disturbance that expresses itself in weeping are in Gethsemane (Lk 11:39-46), and when he laments over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41). These occasions have something in common: Jesus comes face to face with all that opposes him: sin, death, hatred. His response is lament and anguish. There may also be an element of indignation, almost of anger.

Jewish burial rite did not include embalming. The oil and spices used would have held unpleasant odors at bay for a while, but after four days it would have been overpowering. Except that the stench of death here meets the fragrance of the resurrecting power of God's Son.

When Jesus says, "Take away the stone," the reader can't help but be reminded of Jesus' coming resurrection. Our knowledge of the reality of future life colors our experience of present death.

Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The verb kraugazein occurs only eight times in the whole Greek Bible, six of which are in John. In chapter 18-19 it is used four times for the shouts of the crowd to crucify Jesus. The crowd's shout brings death to Jesus. Jesus' shout brings life to Lazarus and to us (Brown, 427).

Lazarus is us, bound by death in our current lives, called to life by Jesus who is the Light and the Life of the world. Jesus stands at the edge of our tomb, shouting "Come out!" We are to substitute our own name for that of Lazarus, hear his command, and walk into the light of day, pulling free of our grave clothes as we go.

Sources Cited

Raymond E. Brown, The Anchor Bible Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Vol. 1, Chapters 1-12

About The Author:

Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. McKenzie's column, "Edgy Exegesis," is published every Monday.  

Lazarus Narrative:
People Who Believe in Jesus Find Eternal Life

by William Loader, Murdoch University, Australia

Gospel: John 11:1-45

This is another great narrative in John's gospel, a well chosen sequel to John 4 and John 9 in the previous weeks. The verses which end the previous chapter (10:40-42) take us back to where the earthly ministry of Jesus and John the Baptist began. The effect is twofold. We are reminded of the difference between Jesus and John; John did no 'signs/miracles' (10:41). Jesus is greater - a major concern of the author. And, secondly, Jesus really is the one whom the Baptist predicted (10:41). The broader impact of these two verses is that they prepare us for the climax of the account of Jesus' ministry. We are heading towards death and resurrection!

The story of Jesus and Lazarus, like the other great narratives of John 4 and John 9, operates at two levels - at least two! At the basic level (Nicodemus's level) it tells the story of bringing a dead person back to life (who will eventually die like other human beings). Like the healing of the blind man in John 9 or the lame man in John 5, it is a miracle. John believes in miracles and is able to convey to us a sense of what the death meant for the people involved. It was real: Jesus wept! That verse alone is worth a sermon in contexts where the gospel is understood as all light and joy.

As the drama unfolds at the basic level we have a number of scenes. Martha and later Mary affirm that if Jesus had been present Lazarus would not have died. Jesus responds to the distress of Mary and her friends. Jesus is very fond of the family and of Lazarus, which has led some to speculate whether Lazarus might be the enigmatic 'disciple whom Jesus loved' of whom we hear elsewhere. Jesus had deliberately postponed his response for strategic reasons. In the larger story the raising of Lazarus will set off a chain of events leading eventually to Jesus' journey through suffering to glory. All these and other details fit the story at the basic level.

We do not have to travel far into the story before we see that something else is also going on here. Jesus' response that Lazarus's sickness was not terminal may reflect an earlier form of the story in which Jesus really did assess the situation wrongly, but it is not the case here in John. 'This sickness will not lead to death' eventually becomes true. That it takes place 'for the glory of God' interprets the sickness (and death) as having a purpose (with all the theological issues that raises), but the outcome will be: Jesus, 'the Son of God, will be glorified'. Passages like John 17 show that John portrays Jesus' path of suffering and death as leading back to the Father's glory, ie. his glorification. Jesus knows that. The hearers of the gospel know that. His disciples and others in the narrative do not. This creates irony in the passage.

The irony is apparent in 11:8-10 where the disciples (cannot help but) miss the point, because going up to Jerusalem to suffer and die is Jesus' plan. Jesus' response about light and darkness reminds us of his affirmation that he is the light of the world. The period of his ministry is coming to an end. Darkness is coming! A similar irony follows in 11:11-16 where again the disciples are missing the point and Jesus is speaking in riddles (from their perspective), but we the hearers know it all makes sense! We smile sadly at Thomas's words in 11:16: some will die with Jesus - or, at least, for him. Indeed they will.

The two meetings, first of Martha, then of Mary, with Jesus sit neatly in the centre of the narrative. They have the effect of highlighting Jesus' proclamation that he is the resurrection and the life (11:25-26). Martha typifies faith: she believes in Jesus' power; she believes in a day of resurrection. We should assume the same for Mary (whose quieter character is reminiscent of what we read in Luke). The Jewish crowd is also important for the basic level of the narrative. Their reports and the controversies which ensue will bring Jesus to death - and then to resurrection! On the way we pass through the description of distress, of weeping, of the smell of the corpse, of the dramatic emergence of the embalmed body, and of wonder and excitement. But, above the drama at that basic level, hovers a higher meaning which comes to expression in Jesus' response to Martha.

Jesus declares: 'I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone believing in me, even if they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die' (11:25-26). At the basic level it is not, in fact, true: Lazarus will eventually die. But it is not meant to be understood as applying to that level. Rather, like the statements that Jesus is the bread of life and the light of the world, it is making a different point. It is typical of John's gospel that it can be read at both levels. Because it uses the words, 'even if they die', we might think of what happened to Lazarus. 'Will live' introduces the point of ambiguity. At the level of the narrative this is also true of Lazarus (until he dies again!), but the implications of such a statement would be that any believer who dies will be similarly brought back to life for a while in a literal sense. That is about as absurd as when Nicodemus thinks literally about being born a second time (3:3-5).

The point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever. The claim made in 11:25-26 uses the narrative as a springboard to jump to a different level of reality that leaves the original story behind and no longer applies to it. People who remain at the basic level of the story will have a faith like that of Martha and Mary. They need to move beyond that. If they do not, they will be left looking for the next miracle and failing to see, that from John's perspective the miracles are signs of something else.

As we retell the story today we will have some who are as happy with the miracle as John was. We will have others who find such reports problematic and question the point of telling them if they are not repeatable in other situations of need. For the former an event becomes the setting for a claim which goes far beyond it. For the latter the narrative is a mythical drama, but to make the same claim.

To acclaim Jesus as resurrection and life is ultimately to say something about God and to do so we need to ensure we think theologically. How do we understand this God who through Christ is shown as life and nourishment? We then find ourselves talking about compassion and challenge. John's gospel keeps doing this: making claims which need careful exposition because the content is implied. At worst the claims become slogans of propaganda which are made also about others (that they are truth, the way, etc). At best we tell the whole story and know its summary: God so loved the world; God is compassion. That is the light that challenges the darkness, the truth that challenges the falsehood, the caring that challenges the abandonment - and so leads from death to life.

The Raising of Lazarus from the Dead
Gospel: John 11:1-44

Martha speaks profound sorrow at the death of Lazarus, but it is tinged with a touch of blaming Jesus: "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died."

Where do I resent the losses in my life and somehow blame God for them, rather than seeing them as places where God's glory will be revealed?

Even when Jesus tells Martha, "I am the one who raises the dead to life!" she finds it hard to believe he means now, in the case of her dead brother.

Where do I doubt that Jesus can bring life?

Jesus stands before the tomb weeping. He places no barriers to his feelings about death. Could he be staring at and facing the tomb of his own death?

Can I be with him there?
Can I stand before and face the tombs in my daily life?

Jesus shouts the liberating words of life, "Lazarus, come forth!"

How is he shouting that to me today?

The grace will come when I experience how my 'deaths' will not end in death, but in giving glory to God. When I experience how entombed I have been, tied and bound, no longer alive, dead for a long time, I will sense the power of the command of Jesus that I "come forth."

Source: Creighton University - Praying Lent

Mary's Extravagant Gift

by Max Lucado

"Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil." John 12:3

She was the only one who believed him. Whenever he spoke of his death, the others shrugged or doubted, but Mary believed. Mary believed because he spoke with a firmness she'd heard before.

"Lazarus, come out!" he'd demanded, and her brother came out. After four days in a stone-sealed grave, he walked out.

And as Mary kissed the now-warm hands of her just-dead brother, she turned and looked. Tear streaks were dry and the teeth shone from beneath the beard. Jesus was smiling.

And in her heart she knew she would never doubt his words.

So when he spoke of his death, she believed.

"Now is the right time," she told herself.

It wasn't an act of impulse. She'd carried the large vial of perfume from her house to Simon's. It wasn't a spontaneous gesture. But it was an extravagant one. The perfume was worth a year's wages. Maybe the only thing of value she had. It wasn't a logical thing to do, but since when has love been led by logic?

Common sense hadn't wept at Lazarus's tomb. Love did, though. Extravagant, risky, chance-taking love.

And now someone needed to show the same to the giver of such love.

So Mary did. She stepped up behind him and stood with the jar in her hand. She began to pour. Over his head. Over his shoulders. Down his back. She would have poured herself out for him, if she could.

The fragrance of the sweet ointment rushed through the room.

"Wherever you go," the gesture spoke, "breathe the aroma and remember one who cares."

The other disciples mocked her extravagance, but don't miss Jesus' prompt defense of Mary. "Why are you troubling this woman? She did an excellent thing for me."

Jesus' message is just as powerful as it was then. "There is a time for risky love. There is a time to pour out your affections on one you love. And when the time comes—seize it, don't miss it."

Source: On Calvary's Hill: 40 Readings for the Easter Season (Thomas Nelson).
© 2013 by Max Lucado. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Fourth Servant Song in Isaiah - Part IV: He Was Despised And Rejected

by Bill Randles

Scripture: Isaiah 53:1-3

Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:1-3)

It is the climax of human history, the apocalypse, the very end of the world. The Jewish people are surrounded on all sides by armies who have amassed themselves together to wipe them out! Israel's enemies have never been so seemingly close to achieving their goal.

Suddenly something happens which is totally unexpected, Israel's God reveals himself . The embattled nation dimly recognizes Him as the one whom they had once shunned and pierced. It is now evident that the Messiah/Saviour who has come to them in their most desperate hour, bears the marks of crucifixion!

The nation of Israel reels. It was Him all along? The Nazarene? Jesus ? Everything they thought they knew of their own history, scripture, and law has been upended. In the darkest hour, the 2500 year old prophecy of Zechariah is fulfilled, "They shall look upon ME whom they have pierced and they shall mourn as for an only Son…".

In the fourth Servant Song, Isaiah predicts the heartfelt confession that the prodigal son nation of Israel, long estranged from her God, will make at that point in time ;

he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:1-3)

He is despised and rejected of men;…When men don't ignore Him, they usually scorn or hate him, rejecting Him virulently. To this day, they often refuse to give any credence to Him, and loathe the implications of his life and ministry. Somehow they sense instinctively that this man reveals the very secrets of their own hearts, therefore they hate and shun him.

There is something about Him that brings out in men either an instinctive abhorrence , or an attraction, as it is written, "He came unto His own and His own received him not… but as many as received him…". He does not and cannot 'fit in' with the Age, He is always separate, isolated, the outsider.

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…This is a man completely familiar with the human condition. He knows by experience what sorrow and grief , weakness and limitation are all about. The Messiah entered into our human dilemma, experiencing death in all of its toxic forms.

and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not…What is it about him that causes so many to turn away? To be tempted to be ashamed to even so much as associate with Him? Why does he have to promise reward for those who will confess him before their own generation?

We confess that there was a time for all of us, (the believing community of the Servant), that we couldn't look at Him, we turned away from him in shame and horror. Was it that our own age so hated Him, and we didn't want to share in His reproach ?

Is it a sad, misguided allegiance with the rest of the world that "despises and rejects" Him whom God has sent? Could it be that we know deeply that His suffering is a testimony to our own sinfulness, weakness, and rebellion ? Does He not evoke the deepest wells of God hatred in the hearts of Adam's proud sons and daughters?

So we have all turned away our faces from Him at one time or anther. We have laughed at him, taking out own seat with the rest of the scorners who cynically mock him in our own age. Our estimation of Him has been faulty, we didn't see anything special in Him, nothing to regard or be in awe of.

But all that tells us is that our own faculties of judgment are so utterly corrupt, and that sin has made us all hopelessly bankrupt, morally and spiritually, unable to see truth, Beauty and genuine Holiness and goodness, when it is presented to us.He, the Servant, is rejected of men, but precious to God.

The Jewish nation has had many figures in her history, many noble and more than a few ignoble. But far and away the one figure in Jewish history who has invoked the most intense despite, and loathing among them , has been Jesus of Nazareth.

I quote the Hebrew Christian author of the last century, David Baron;

"No person in the history of the Jews has provoked such deep-seated abhorrence, as He who came only to bless them and on the cross prayed for them, "Father forgive them, they know not what they have done…"…Their hatred of Him was intense and mysterious…All through the centuries no name has provoked such intense abhorrence among the Jews as Jesus…I have known personally most amiable, and as men, lovable characters among the Jews; but immediately the name "Jesus" was mentioned, a change came over their countenances, and they would fall into a passion of anger….How often it has been my lot to witness some of my people almost mad with rage – clenching their fists, gnashing their teeth, and spitting on the ground at the very mention of that name which to the believer is "As an ointment poured fourth"….Israel's attitude to our Lord Jesus may be gathered also from their literature. In the filthy legends about him in the Talmud and more modern productions, the very names by which he is called are blasphemous. The precious name Yeshua has been changed to Yeshu, (an acronym meaning 'May his name and memory be blotted out')…He is often styled "the Transgressor" and another frequently used term, "Tolui ("the hanged One") which is equivalent to "the accursed one".
(Baron, The Servant of Jehovah Wipf & Stock)

But the Jewish people are a microcosm of the entire Human race, their unbelief and rejection of their own Messiah is a type of all of our own bitterness towards God. How did we come to love Jesus, whom we once would have crucified? He revealed himself to us in grace and Mercy, as He will soon to his own original chosen people! Hallelujah!

Source: Bill Randles Blog

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