In the Gospel of John chapter 11 we find Jesus’ final encounter with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus positioned right before Holy Week. The Roman Catholic Church highlights the raising of Lazarus during Lent in Year A, and you may also hear it proclaimed on the 5th Sunday of Lent in other lectionary years as a part of the Scrutinies in the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults. In fact, the Orthodox Church celebrates Lazarus Saturday the day before Palm Sunday as a major feast.

These are some of the final moments Jesus spends with His friends and disciples! The disciples were hesitant to travel to Bethany. This was a territory where the Jews had been extremely hostile towards Jesus. Thomas even famously declared, “let us go also, to die with Him!” Jesus knew it would be dangerous. 

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has already been dead for four days. Jewish tradition held that the soul departed from the body on the fourth day. Nevertheless, Jesus has the stone rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus calls Lazarus by name, and he is raised from the dead!

Why is this so important? In the raising of Lazarus we find Jesus doing something absolutely astonishing- an act that can only be done by the One who has power over all life… God Himself! In Jesus’ conversation with Martha, He declares “I AM the resurrection and the life.” In this proclamation and in the raising of Lazarus, we discover Jesus’ power over death, and the hope of the resurrection on the last day. Although Lazarus would die again, Jesus has revealed that resurrection is part of His very identity.

The Gospel of John makes it clear that the raising of Lazarus was in fact a tipping point in Jesus’ ministry; after this miracle the Jewish leaders decide that Jesus must die. As one scholar wrote, “Going to Judea to give life to the one he loves will in the end cost Jesus his own life” (Brendan Byrne, SJ). In the raising of Lazarus, we catch a glimpse of our Savior’s heart. He reveals His absolute determination to free us from death, no matter what the cost.