05 March 2008

Bible portraits: Lazarus (Part 3)

It was four days after the funeral that we noticed an unfamiliar figure walking towards us along the path. I watched as Martha caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye. Without a moment’s delay she rose and ran out towards him.

They were just out of earshot, so I can’t tell you anything about the conversation that transpired between them. Yet I could see Martha gesticulating with her hands and I could tell that she was angry. Then I saw him put his hand gently on her shoulder and speak to her, and immediately she became calm. When the conversation had ended, she came back and spoke to Mary: “The rabbi is here…”

So, I thought to myself, this must be the one I have heard so much about, this Jesus fellow from Nazareth. I watched with increased interest as Mary got up to go to him, and a few of us followed her along the path towards the tomb. Poor Mary crumbled down onto her knees before him. Through her sobs she managed to blubber, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It was evident from the drawn expression on his face that this Jesus was deeply moved by what was happening. He must have held Lazarus in great esteem, yet we couldn’t help wondering, if that was the case, why he had not come earlier.

He said to Mary, “Take me to the tomb.” As he stood in front of it, I could see the tears running down his cheeks, glistening in the afternoon sun. His whole body was trembling with emotion. I have never seen anything quite like it. If I had had any doubts about the reality of his grief, they vanished in those brief moments. Then he said, “Take away the stone.” “But Lord,” Mary protested, “what good will that do? His body will already have begun to decompose.” “Move it,” he repeated with a firmness and an authority in his voice that I have never heard in anyone before or since. The words were barely out of his mouth before several of us were heaving the rock away from the entry to the tomb. Jesus stood directly in front of it and lifted up his hands in prayer. Then he spoke into the tomb: “Lazarus, come forth!”

I could hear in his voice the same authority that had been there before. Somehow all of us knew almost beyond doubt that something (we had no idea what, but something) was going to happen. In dumb silence we all gazed into the dark entry of the tomb. Peering into the shadows we saw the impossible happen. Still tightly wrapped in his shroud the dead man came forth. All of us were paralyzed with a combination of terror and amazement. Through our numbness we could hear Jesus say to us, “Unbind him and let him free.”

Chills still run down my spine as I think back on that day. It may seem strange to you, but the image that remains with me most is not the figure of Lazarus emerging from his tomb. It is the tears on Jesus’ face and his sobs of grief. Somehow I knew that those tears were not like mine. Jesus was not weeping for himself. He was weeping for me and for each of us who stood outside Lazarus’ tomb that day. He wept for our sorrow, our helplessness, our desperation, our death.

Little more than a week elapsed before Jesus met with his own death. He was dragged before a mockery of a court and hanged from a cross, the death of a common criminal. Since then I have come to be one of those who believe that in his death Jesus did what I began to see him do at Lazarus’ tomb. There he took upon himself not merely our sorrows but all that keeps us from knowing the life that God intends for us—our sins and even our death. As Jesus wept for me in Bethany, so I believe died for me at Calvary. In the words of one of our prophets, “He was … a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…”

Gracious God,
how can we thank you for sending Jesus into our world
and into our lives?
How can we thank you for his tears shed for our sorrows
and for his death for our sins?
Help us to know him truly as the resurrection and the life,
and that whoever believes in him will not die
but have life eternal.

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