Our gospel story this weekend describes the miracle of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. When news of Lazarus’ illness reached Jesus, he and his disciples were a couple days’ journey away on the east side of the Jordan River, an area outside the jurisdiction of the Jewish authorities who were searching for a way to convict Jesus and have him put to death. Should he go back into their territory? Thomas expresses the danger of doing so when he suggests the apostles should go back with Jesus” to die with him.”
Jesus did return, but why did he wait? Given the number of days necessary for the journey and the timing of Lazarus’ death, Jesus would not have gotten to Bethany before the death of Lazarus anyway. Perhaps Jesus knew that the Pharisees, who were aware of his friendship with Lazarus, would be keeping an eye out for Jesus to return to Bethany, but would have ended their vigil when Lazarus died. It could also be that Jesus was simply giving time for word of Lazarus’ death to spread, thus making more dramatic the news of his subsequently being raised from the dead by Jesus.
Lazarus became a celebrity in the weeks following his return to life Hundreds of people went out from Jerusalem to see him and hear his testimony about Jesus. This leads to the supreme irony of the Jewish authorities scheming to put Lazarus to death as well, because of the impact of his testimony about what Jesus had done for him. Can you imagine Lazaraus, who had already died once, being afraid of a death threat? What a grace for us not to be afraid of death, to be so strong in faith that we even welcome challenges as opportunities to give testimony to what we believe.
Fr Michael Gillessie, beloved former pastor of St Philip’s and St Clare’s, talked of his coming death as a home-coming, and wanted his funeral, celebrated last Monday, to be a joyful occasion, which it certainly was. Jesus speaks of Lazarus’ death as his simply “falling asleep.” May we, too, have that same belief that death is not the end, but merely a “falling asleep” in this life and a waking into the arms of Jesus in the next.