The stone had been secured. You took pity on the tears of Martha and Mary, and You ordered that the stone be rolled away from the tomb, O Christ our God. And then You called the dead man and resurrected him; and through him, O Giver of Life, You assured the world of its resurrection. Glory to Your dominion, O Savior; glory to Your authority; glory to You who established all things by Your word.
~Kathisma, Orthros, Saturday of Lazarus, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard me. I knew that Thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that Thou didst send 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 bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what He did, believed in Him.”
We believe that Jesus Christ is fully God, and we believe, that for thirty-three years, He walked the earth and was fully man. We’ve already discussed His human emotion of sadness at the death of His friend Lazarus. As God, He also has the power over life and death. And He showed that power in raising Lazarus from the tomb. After all, what greater power can there be than the power over life and death.
The four-day entombment of Lazarus is significant. The Jews buried people immediately after death. They did not embalm bodies. This was strictly forbidden. Spices were used to help cover the stench of decomposition. Jesus asked for the stone to be taken away from the tomb, which immediately raised a concern of Martha that there would be an odor from the decomposing body of Lazarus. Jesus addressed her small doubt with the question, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) Her faith again won out over her doubt, and she allowed the stone to be taken away.
Before completing the miracle, Jesus paused to pray to God the Father, a reminder to us that every event in our lives ideally should be connected to God, and we should also connect with Him in prayer constantly, particularly before the most important moments of our lives.
In the Orthodox liturgical tradition, at funeral services, we read from John 5: 24-30. In this passage, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. . .The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth.” (John 5: 25, 28-29) Jesus fulfilled these verses when He raised His voice and called Lazarus to come forth out of the tomb.
Lazarus came out of the tomb wearing his burial cloths, along with his face being wrapped in a cloth. Indeed, this was the same man who four days earlier had died, been wrapped in burial cloths, and been buried in the tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead, the burial cloths remained in the tomb, folded up where the Body of Jesus had lain. Lazarus came forth from the tomb with his burial cloths, something that has been interpreted as meaning that Lazarus would eventually die and wear them again. Tradition also holds that after he was raised from the dead, Lazarus never smiled again. He had been given the grace to see Paradise, and having seen it and having come back from the dead, he longed to return.
The death and resurrection of Lazarus prefigures the Resurrection of Christ. For in less than eight days, Jesus would be crucified and rise from the dead. And many of the people who had witnessed the death and resurrection of Lazarus would experience the death and resurrection of Christ. For those who might doubt if the Resurrection of Christ was real or some kind of stunt, they had, within their recent memory, seen it happen to Lazarus, so they would know it was possible. This applies both to the Jewish leaders and the common people.
The death and resurrection of Lazarus also prefigures our own resurrection from the dead. Indeed, it is our common destiny to die and be laid in a tomb, just like Lazarus, and just like Christ. The story doesn’t end here for the person of faith, just as it did not end for Christ or for Lazarus. Those who are in the grave will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. In John 10:4, Jesus tells us that the sheep know the voice of their shepherd. Thus when those in the graves hear the voice of the Son of God, the Good Shepherd (John 10), they will recognize His voice and come forth, and those who He judges as goodwill go the resurrection of life. (John 5:29) Lazarus personifies these verses, as he hears the voice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and comes forth from the tomb. Jesus’ intention was to raise Lazarus in a very public way so people would take note of the Messianic ability of Jesus to raise the dead. It was also to prefigure His own death and resurrection.
You raised Your friend who was four days dead, O Christ, and brought an end to the lament of Martha and Mary, and thus You demonstrated to all that You are the One Who fills all things by Your divine dominion, by Your own free will. The Cherubim cry out to You unceasingly: Hosanna in the highest. Blessed are You Who are God above all. Glory to You. (Lauds, Orthros, Saturday of Lazarus, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Because Christ had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, He is the Lord of life and death and has the power to raise us to everlasting life!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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