INTRO We have explored the ‘Signs’ of the life and love, the light and truth that the Word made Flesh brings into our world, these ‘Signs’ of the Father’s love for humanity, for creation, for us! Now we come to the greatest ‘sign’ – the defeat of death, the giving of life in all its fulness expressed in the Raising of Lazarus from the Tomb.

[1] Jesus gives Life and Receives Death (John 11: 1-12: 50) The conflict of Life with Death reaches its climax as Jesus gives the clearest possible sign to the Divine energy and love in Him, the clearest sign that He ‘does the will of His Father’ – he robs the tomb of Lazarus, bringing him back to life. In this Sign He ‘prophesies’ his own Victory over Death – a Victory that destroys eternal death for all humanity. And yet this clearest of all signs is met with the decisive decision of ‘unbelief’ – the decision to kill him is sealed – the High Priest decides that Jesus must ‘die for the people’ (John 11: 50). What follows is a preparation for His Passion – the Anointing of Jesus for death (John 12: 1-8) and His short-lived ‘triumphal’ Entry into Jerusalem (John 12: 12-16). Jesus gives Life and receives Death –  only to defeat Death and liberate Life for ever.

[2] Only God is Master of death and life – hence this miracle, this ‘dunamis’ or ‘Sign of Power’, ‘Sign of Glory’ is the ultimate expression of Jesus’ oneness with the Father (John 5: 21), that He is the Creative ‘Word made Flesh, dwelling among us’ John 1: 14). While both Luke (Luke 7: 11-16) and Mark (Mark 5: 22-23) have Jesus bringing people back to life, their emphasis is on the compassion of God for the one who has died and for those who grieve. In John, however, the raising of Lazarus is a revelation or ‘Sign’ of who Jesus us – the One who is Life in all its fulness, the One who robs the Tomb for ever of the power to vanquish humanity. After healing the sick man at the Pool of Bethzatha (John 5: 1-18) Jesus says in the controversy that follows ‘As the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son give life to anyone he chooses’ (John 5: 21). Throughout John’s Gospel, the cause of the conflict that leads to Jesus’ crucifixion is that He ‘made himself equal to God’ – his blasphemy! The One who consistently gives the ‘Signs’ of His divine nature, the One who constantly speaks of and acts in the power of His relationship with the Father is met with disbelief. Truth is rejected. As John’s Prologue warned us ‘He was in the world that had its being through Him and the world did not know Him. He came to His own domain and His own people did not accept Him’ (John 1: 10-11).

[3] ‘This sickness will not end in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified’ (John 11: 4). The death is real – but not the end. We are in the words of St Augustine an ‘Easter People and Alleluia! is our song’. The glory that is of God and shared with us is that death is transformed into the ‘birth passage’ into finally being ‘re-born’ into the fulness of our identity as ‘first-born’ sons and daughters of God. Jesus shares with us his identity. What begins in Baptism (born of water and the Spirit) reaches its fulness in the healing transformation of death – the ‘mid-wife’ who releases us into our ‘real life hidden in Christ’ as St Paul would say. St Francis of Assisi in his ‘Canticle of the Creatures’ praises ‘Sister Bodily Death’. John’s text (the four day delay before Jesus arrives in Bethany) makes it clear that Lazarus death is real (not a coma). A note on Bethany: the place of friendship in Jesus life, the place where he could relax a a meal with friends, a place where he did not need to ‘act’ as Messiah for a while – just ‘be’ and rest! Described in Luke especially (Luke 10: 38-42). Interestingly in Luke this passage comes between Jesus parable on ‘who is my neighbour’ I am to serve and love – the Good Samaritan; and his teaching on prayer – and with Martha and Mary both are portrayed – loving God and our neighbour – prayer and practical service. Bethany is a place where Jesus finds both and rejoices in both! Martha proclaims her faith in Jesus, in the reality of Resurrection (personal life after death by no means a universal belief in the Judaism of Jesus’ time – or even now!) and above all recognises who Jesus is – ‘you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world’ (John 11: 27). The world is dividing between those who believe and those who will not believe even though they see the Signs! – ‘Here is this man working all these signs and what action are we taking?’ (John 11: 49). The Signs provoke the division between those who see and those who refuse to see!

[4] ‘Unbind him, let him go free’ (John 11:43-44). Jesus goes to the Tomb – and weeps for his friend and grieves also for his own coming death, beholding his own Tomb that he is to endure out of Love. (Note: so often people with terminal illness need to be allowed to grieve their own death – let them talk about their dying. Often they are afraid to share their real feelings, fears or even joys with those whom they love because they perceive our fears of talking about death!). Jesus calls Lazarus by name – as he calls Mary of Magdala by name on Easter morning. He knows us by name (the shepherd knows his flock and they know Him, know the sound of His Voice) (John 10: 2). This is the great Sign of God’s purpose in Jesus, the Divine work in the world – to call us int Life, to give Life, to call humanity out of the tombs of our own making. (TS Eliot has the chorus in ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ bemoaning the ‘living and partly living’ of the human condition). And Jesus turns to those around him (his disciples – the Church then and now) asking them/us to do His work – to unbind and set free. The Church’s healing ministry expresses this – the Church’s Social Teaching and the call to be Prophets of a different world and a New Humanity – our embracing of God’s Option for the Poor – all expressions of ‘Unbind him, set him free!’. As St Oscar Romero and the saintly Bishop Helder Camara or Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ all discovered – The Gospel of Liberation is bad news for those with an investment (financial or power-control) keeping the poor, poor and oppressed, for the sake of our wealth and power. And that opposition does not come only from government and politicians, but from within the Christian community from the who cling to their status and power and seek a comfortable pious Christianity devoid of the Prophetic conflict with the Powers that dominate and oppress. And so the death of Jesus is now sealed and plotted and the decision to kill Lazarus (the Sign) quickly follows! (John 11: 49-54)

AFTERWORD Is our Church ‘unbinding and setting free? 

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