This Johannine journey of faith begins in Cana of Galilee (Jn 2:1-12) and ends at a funeral in Bethany (Jn 11:1-44). Throughout those eleven chapters, incredible events are recorded: water being turned into wine, the temple cleansed, a sick boy restored, a lame man brought to his feet, thousands fed, a blind man gaining sight, and a dead man coming forth from his tomb. On the Fifth Sunday of Lent, in year A, the Church has placed the Raising of Lazarus as the last of those seven signs (Gk. σημεῖα) or miracles. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, Saint John recounts only a limited number of the Lord’s miracles, which he designates as “signs,” a rare term among the evangelists. Although John tells us of only a few miracles, he describes them in much greater depth than the other gospel writers do. While these signs or miracles glorify God the Father, they also point to the divine identity of Jesus. Each of those signs is a theophany (Gk. θεοφάνεια) or a visible display to humanity that embodies the presence and character of God. Ideally, as a Christian theophany, in whatever constitutes that divine act, those visible elements point to the Cross, the glory of God, and they undergird the elevation of Jesus as the Son of Man.
This week’s Gospel of Raising Lazarus from the Dead foreshadows the impending passion of Jesus. Having received word from Martha and Mary that Lazarus was ill, not only did Jesus remain where He was for two days, but when He finally said to the disciples, “Let us go back to Judea,” they reminded Him that earlier the religious leaders had tried to stone him. In reply to their concern, Jesus engages in a brief parable about the difference between walking in the day versus walking at night, alluding to the fact that in going to Jerusalem with Jesus those disciples have nothing to fear. The Lord announces to them that they had to leave the region “beyond the Jordan” and go to Bethany in order to “awaken Lazarus.” The disciples misunderstand thinking that Lazarus was only asleep. Jesus had to clearly say to them, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.”
Finding Himself on the outskirts of that village, Jesus first encounters Martha, who seems to upbraid Him for His overly-long delay. He tells her that Lazarus will rise. At first, she agrees that such rising will happen “in the resurrection on the last day.” Only after Jesus reveals to her that He is the resurrection and the life does Martha understand and she makes this great declaration of faith, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God…” With Jesus remaining on the periphery of the town, Martha went to find her sister Mary, who was in their home along with fellow mourners. Mary, too, goes out to meet Jesus and confronts Him with the same words Martha had used earlier. Seeing her reaction and the weeping and mourning of those with her, Jesus “became perturbed and deeply troubled.” It is only at that point that He asks where Lazarus was entombed; then, we were told that Jesus wept. Emotions well up again at the actual tomb and Jesus tells them, “Take away the stone.” Martha is stunned anticipating the stench arising from a man dead for four days. Jesus, now, upbraids her earthly focus. Then, He addresses God the Father, thanking God for always listening to His pleas, but praying even more earnestly because of the crowd, so “that they may believe that you sent me,” He said.
Then, in a booming voice, Jesus issues this command, “Lazarus, come out!” Tied in burial clothes, hand and foot, with his face wrapped as well, Lazarus comes out of the tomb. Jesus issues another command, “Untie him and let him go.” This ultimate sign convinced many of those mourning with Mary to belief in Jesus. The Raising of Lazarus prefigures Christ’s triumph on Calvary, the glory that would soon be revealed, and the Lord’s glorious victory over death — whose saving death awakens belief in the prospect of eternal life after death.