The thirty-third day of Lent

Friday after 5 Lent

Just as every Sunday is a little Easter, every Friday is a little Good Friday. The new life that is celebrated in the light of every Sunday begins in the shadows of Friday when we remember that the Son of God "went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified." Darkness and light are persistent themes throughout the sacred history that is presented to us in the Bible, from the darkness at creation which is broken when God said, "Let there be light," to the darkness at the sixth hour on Good Friday that cannot overcome the Light of the world even as he hangs dying on the Cross. The cosmic struggle between darkness and light is represented again and again in the smaller struggles we read about in the history of God's people and each Friday in Lent we are reflecting on one of those prefiguring events.

John 11:1, 7-17, 20-27, 38-44

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.... Then after this Jesus said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Judeans were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight: Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him." The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

The Resurrection of Lazarus - James Tissot, 1836-1902When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.... When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "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. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

....Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crown standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

"In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:4-5)  Light and life, darkness and death: the coming of the true Light of the world, the true Life of the world, to confront darkness and death on a cosmic scale is the central theme of the Gospel of John. As we come to the story of Lazarus, the shadows are closing in on the earthly story of Jesus. The hostility of his opponents has reached a fever pitch and they are plotting against his life. The disciples are afraid and are urging Jesus to be careful, to avoid the confrontation that he knows to be both inevitable and necessary. Lazarus is a sign, like Jonah. The death of Lazarus, his descent into the grave, and his resurrection set the stage for the final act of the Incarnation. The resurrection of Lazarus is not the same as the resurrection of Jesus. Lazarus is resurrected and is led out of the darkness into earthly light and life again, but Lazarus will die again. Jesus, on the other hand, is Resurrection and Life. He is not a sign, but the thing itself. He cannot die again and darkness can never return. These things are not yet clear on that ambivalent day in Bethany when Martha is hopeful but unsure, when the disciples remain fearful, and when the enemies of Jesus are hardened in their opposition. Darkness does not easily give way and the hold of death is strong. Nevertheless, the light shines, even as the dark events of Holy Week are about to unfold.    

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