The familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the lectionary text for this week. My reaction to reading the most familiar passages of scripture can sometimes vary widely. Sometimes I read them in a rush. Even in these moments I find reading the passages are comforting and life-giving. Sometimes I actually manage to slow down and read the passages more carefully. It is at these times that the beauty, depth, and richness of God’s revelation comes across most strongly. Part of the reason I am doing these weekly devotions is to encourage myself and you to slow down and read the familiar lectionary gospel readings at a pace that can help us come away refreshed and renewed.The regular characters are here; Mary and Martha, Jesus, the crowd, and the disciples. In John 11:16, we hear the disciples decide to go along to the tomb of Lazarus, but after that they are not heard from. The disciples are anything but silent throughout the gospels. They are sometimes brilliant, and most of the time confused, but they frequently have something to say. I suspect their presence and their silence is a marker of the gravity of the situation in the Lazarus narrative. In Mary and Martha’s actions we see their traditional roles as foils to one another, one emotional while the other is eminently practical. They sound like siblings to me, and remind us that even within a family, people deal with death in varying personal ways. The crowd is a mixed group. Some are sympathetic to Jesus’ grief, and some are judgmental about Jesus choices. Jesus doesn’t respond to them until after the stone is rolled away, and even then only in prayer. For me, the most memorable moment from this passage is the grief of Jesus. Through all of the injustice and brokenness he sees in the gospels, this is the moment I remember when I think of the emotive Jesus. He is moved. God is moved.
But that’s not the extent of Jesus’s actions in this familiar passage. He brings, even in the moment of great sadness, a reminder. A reminder that the glory of God is bigger than we can even imagine. Then Jesus, accused (Mary) and warned (Martha) by those he cares for, and accused by the crowd, says something that takes your breath away. “Take away the stone.”
In our darkest moments, in the places in our lives where there seems to be only deadness, Jesus comes calling. Take away the stone. Come out from whatever is binding you.