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Fifth Week of Lent

Jn. 11:1-45

Among the many amazing miracles of Jesus the raising of Lazarus ranks as the most astonishing and pre-eminent of all. The Jews believed that the soul of a dead person somehow remains in the body for three days, after which corruption sets in as it finally departs. This is why Martha objected to the opening of the tomb, “Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day” (John 11:39).

She is expressing the common view that this was now a hopeless situation. Is this the reason why Jesus delayed coming to the funeral? To raise a person back to life who has already been dead four days and decaying is as unthinkable as the prophet Ezekiel’s vision in which the dry bones of the dead are miraculously restored to life.

For the early Christians the story of the raising of Lazarus was more than a reference to the resurrection of Jesus. For them this miracle is a challenge never to give up hope even in the hopeless situations in which they find themselves as individuals, as a church or as a nation. With God nothing is impossible. It is never too late for Him to intervene. God can bring about the impossible and so often He wants to use our co-operation in bringing this about.

The co-operation Jesus needed for this miracle was the faith of Martha, as is clear from His words to her were, “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in Me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, the One who was to come into the world.”

Having been assured of her faith He now proceeds to perform the miracle. But we see that Jesus still needs more human cooperation. He issues three commands and all of them are obeyed to the letter. The first is, “Take the stone away” although Jesus had the power, by one word, to remove the heavy stone from the entrance of the tomb. Why didn’t He? He wanted to elicit their faith, not only of Martha but also her friends. If they did not believe they would not have co-operated. Their attitude could have been that we will not do this for the body is already in the process of decay and it is a waste of time. How right C. S. Lewis was when he wrote, “God seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures.”

His second command is directed to the dead man, “’Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out.” Lazarus obeyed and with difficulty in the dark made his way to the entrance of the tomb, shuffling along for his body as well as his legs were bound with cloths.

The third command is addressed to the people, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Even though Lazarus did his best to approach the entrance of the tomb, there was no way he could unbind himself. He needed the community to do that for him. By unbinding Lazarus and setting him free from the death bands the community is accepting Lazarus back as one of them.

Many Christian individuals and communities today have fallen victim to the death of sin. Many are already in the tomb of hopelessness and decay, in the bondage of sinful habits and attitudes. Nothing short of a miracle can bring them back to life in Christ. Jesus is ready for the miracle. He Himself said, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). Are we ready to co-operate with Jesus for a miracle? Are we ready to take away the stone that stands between us and the light of Christ’s face? Are we ready to take the first step to come out of the place of death? Are we ready to unbind, that is forgive, one another and let them and us go free? These are the various ways we co-operate with God in the miracle of bringing us back to life and reviving us as individuals, as a church and as a nation.

Lord Jesus, just as you raised Lazarus from the dead, we ask you to forgive us all our sins and raise us to new life in You.

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