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John 11:32-44

I must admit that in some ways the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is “old hat” for me as a Christian raised in the church, and I wonder if this is a common experience for other Christians in our congregations. It’s one of the greatest miracles recorded in scripture yet we often skim it having forgotten the wonder we may have felt the first time we read it. Yes, we get it, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Next!

In preparing my own sermon for this day, I wanted to reengage with the story with as much sensory detail as possible. Engaging a text with our senses can provide an invitation for wonder, to ponder and to realise with fresh eyes, Jesus raised a man from the dead. This is not an ordinary event; it points us to the glory of God revealed in Christ Jesus. And on this All Saints Day, it reminds us that Jesus is Lord in life and in death.

The passage begins with a picture of Mary weeping. Her knees are unable to bear her weight and she buckles to the ground when she sees Jesus approach. The dust stirs under Jesus’s feet as he nears the place she cries and though she recognises his Lordship when she speaks to him it comes out in the form of an accusation, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

In a moment that reminds us of Jesus’s divinity and his humanity, Jesus joins Mary on the ground and also weeps. Jesus does not distance himself from suffering; he willingly enters into it and models care for the dead through his grief for Lazarus. Rather than arriving and telling Mary that her grief has no place, he sits with her a while and acknowledges the very real suffering that has happened and even participates in its expression. As he wipes her eyes and his own, he asks where Lazarus has been laid. Jesus and Mary stand up and join the others who lead the way to Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus continues to weep as he walks; rather than hide his emotion he welcomes it and joins the tearful lament of the crowd. Some Jews saw this as an affirmation of Jesus’s love for Lazarus while others took the opportunity to express scepticism about his divinity. They imply that Jesus can only help the living, and in this case, he didn’t even do that. In so doing they fail to acknowledge that care for the dead and for those grieving is a sacred act in its own right.

As they approach the tomb Jesus is once more deeply moved when he sees the stone laid across the entrance of the cave containing Lazarus’s body. Through tears Jesus tells them to take away the stone. I wonder if in this moment hushed voices exchanged expressions of confusion, doubt, and even disdain for Jesus who dared command such a thing. Were their stomachs in knots of anticipation? Did they begin to breathe through their mouths to avoid taking in the odor of death? Martha, like Mary, expresses her doubt: Lazarus had been dead four days. What more could Jesus possibly do?

Jesus, no longer crying, says to her in all power and gentleness, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Feeling caught in her doubt and unable to think of a single thing to say in response, she walks to the cave and helps the others take away the stone. Their hearts race as Jesus looks up to pray before he looks inside. They listen to Jesus give thanks to the Father for hearing him now and hearing him always. Then Jesus prays, “I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

And just as the people were beginning to look at each other with curiosity on their faces, wondering what that might possibly mean, Jesus startles them with a loud voice calling, “Lazarus, come out!” Every person gathered freezes in time and some even hold their breath as they peer past Jesus and stare into the cave. Some don’t want to admit that they don’t expect to see Lazarus, and others don’t want to admit that they do. Though very little time passes it feels like ages before they all finally see Lazarus emerge from the cave still wearing the clothes of death. The quietness continues at first and then they began to talk, everyone at once, so that it is loud and no one can really hear anything. Jesus calmly speaks over the noise and instructs them to take off his grave clothes and to let him go. Mary and Ma