The story of the Raising of Lazarus is one of the great miracles, the signs in the Gospel of John. It is a wonderful story, but unlike the other signs, it seems to have a shadow cast over it. For, in full tragic irony, Jesus giving life to Lazarus results directly in the decision to put Jesus to death. The shadow cast over the story is the shadow of the Cross.
For immediately after Jesus has raised Lazarus, we read: ‘Some of those who had come with Mary went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.’ And the Pharisees were filled with fear. At once, they and the chief priests called a meeting of the council and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ the council was no less than the Sanhedrin – the highest Jewish court and governing body. That’s how serious the threat of this man Jesus was to them. The meeting was highly charged, and the most powerful emotion was fear. ‘What are we going to do?’, said one. ‘We can’t let him carry on like this’, said another. ‘Everyone will believe in him, and then what? The Romans will come and destroy our Temple and our whole nation.’ Next, Caiaphas the high priest joined in: ‘You know nothing at all.’ In Greek it is stronger, rather like, ‘You are talking rubbish!’ The tension was rising. Fear was everywhere. They all felt it. And what they feared most from Jesus is what they thought they would lose. If this man was allowed to carry on they would lose everything; their status, their position in society, their power – everything. They risked losing their very selves.
It is this story, this story of the Sanhedrin, and the plot to kill Jesus, which is given us today, on the very cusp of Holy Week. And it is a story shot through with profound irony. For the very thing that the Jewish leaders most feared – loss – the loss of power, the loss of their very selves, lies at the heart of the meaning of Holy Week and Easter. ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’ (Matthew 16:25) Their desperate fear of loss, of losing their lives, was the very thing which blinded them to see in Jesus the one who could give them true life, life beyond their fearful imaginings.
And so, this great theme of losing life and finding new life, heralds the beginning of the events of Holy Week. We trace in sometimes excruciating detail, how this man Jesus slowly loses first his followers, then loses his trial, then his clothing, then his strength, and finally his life. But then, that same life lost, bursts forth into new life – and offers us that same life, glorious and eternal.
But to receive that life, we too must first lose our old life, lose our very selves. Holy Week offers this powerful invitation, day by day, to let go – to loosen our fearful grip on our attachments, our illusions about ourselves, to strip ourselves of all that keeps us from receiving the new life that the crucified and risen Lord longs to give us.
‘For those who want to save their life will lose it.
But those who lose this their life for my sake will find it.’
Year 1 Lenten Feria
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