Sunday Gathered Worship, April 2, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
This Gospel story is one of my favorites. I have always loved the King James Version when Martha says to Jesus, “Lo, he stinketh.” I once had a cat, whom I named Lazarus, so that I could open the door, say, “Lazarus, come out!” and feel very Christ-like.
I’m especially fond of Martha’s role in this story. In the other Mary and Martha story, Martha works herself into a dither while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and Martha complains about this division of labor, Martha seems to get the bad rap. In this story, Martha is sort of a hero, who makes the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. She is also shown to be a woman of great faith. I love the reversal in roles here. Martha goes out to meet Jesus, while Mary sits at home. People had come to mourn with them, and from the other story, you would more imagine Martha staying at home to serve all the guests.
In addition, every Sunday School student who had to memorize Bible verses loves this story because it has the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” But it is so good to see the humanity of Jesus in this story. He truly loves Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He weeps for Mary and Martha at their loss; he weeps with sadness over the death of Lazarus; he weeps for his own loss; he weeps because once again his followers don’t understand. Jesus shows real emotion.
I love this story because doubting Thomas is such a strong character. While the other disciples want to keep Jesus from going to Bethany because his life has been threatened, Thomas says, “Let’s go. I am ready to die with him.” He is not afraid; he’s not cringing, locked away in a room. He is raring to go. I love Thomas. He’s another one who is so truly human.
I laugh every time I read this story over the image of Lazarus coming out of the tomb, all wrapped up in grave cloths. I have this picture in my mind of a living mummy, walking heavily with his arms stretched out. He wants those bands to be loosed. He wants to jump up and down for joy at being alive.
But most of all I love this story for the hope it gives to all of us who read and hear it. There are those in this story who may have been ready to kill Jesus, but after Lazarus is raised, they come to believe. From this story, any of us who have doubted Jesus’ power over death can come to believe as well. We can be comforted by Jesus’ words that are so well known to us: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” With Martha, we can say, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”