In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Dear brothers and sisters, today we commemorate the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus lay in the tomb for four days. His body, bound in the grave clothes, began to decompose and stink. Outside the tomb, his sisters Martha and Mary wept and lamented, while Death, that all-devouring wolf, licked his chops and exulted with Hades.
The joy of Death and Hades turned into lamentation when they heard the voice of the Son of Man saying, “Lazarus, come forth!” A hymn written by St. Romanos the Melodist depicts Death and Hades screaming in terror when they saw the divine power of Christ permeating the body of Lazarus,
“making his body ready for the summons of the giver of life, arranging his hair, weaving his membranes, and putting together his viscera, extending all his veins, sending blood into them again, mending his arteries, so that Lazarus, ready when he is called, will arise.”
The gospels tell us that Christ restored to life two other people: the son of the widow from Naïn, and the daughter of Jairus. However, these two had just died; their bodies were still fresh when Jesus called them back to life. Lazarus, on the other hand, was already dead for four days, and his body succumbed to the law of nature and began to return to the elements from whence they came. For when Adam fell into sin and turned against the Giver of Life, the Lord told him: “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Gen. 3:19).” Our Lord came to annul that ancient curse, to return Adam to his former estate. He overcame the stronghold of death, and reversed the course of nature. He restored Lazarus to life and called him from the grave, in anticipation of His own resurrection from the dead eight days later.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life, and whosoever believes in Him, even if he dies, will live. At the same time, Our Lord is also a man like us, having assumed human nature in its fullness, yet without sin. We see this when, as man, He asked where Lazarus is buried, though as God He knew all things. As man, He was grieved by His friend’s death, and wept, but as God He raised him from the dead.
The friends of Jesus, Martha and Mary, had great faith in Him. Martha confessed that He was “the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world (Jn. 11:27).” And because of their great faith, the Lord, out of His compassion and love for them raised Lazarus from the dead.
What does this teach us? First, as St. Gregory the Theologian tells us, it teaches us of the power of intercession. Lazarus was dead, and he could not do anything for himself, but because of the great faith and love of his sisters, Christ heard their supplications and restored him to life. Of course, they did not expect Him to raise their brother from the dead, and we should not expect such miracles either, for as it is written, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign (Mt. 12:39).” But we should remember that the dead need our prayers, because they cannot do anything for themselves, the time for repentance having ended for them.
A second mystery revealed by the raising of Lazarus is that of friendship with Christ. It is strange to think that the Lord, who is “no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11),” should have friends, especially such close friends as Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. However, the gospel tells us that He loved them very much. It is not because He had some kind of partiality towards them, but that they responded to His love to a much greater extent than did others.
Our Lord loves each of us as much as he loves Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and desires that we enter into communion with Him, a communion of deep friendship. Sadly, we do not listen to the words of our Shepherd, but instead seek other pastures. We go astray in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. We seek comfort and security not in the Lord, but in ourselves. Little by little, we bind ourselves with our passions, until we cannot break free from them, and we enclose ourselves in a tomb of our own making. Who can save us from this predicament, from this “body of death (Rom. 7:24)?”
Christ is calling us to come out of ourselves, out of our selfishness, our desires for lust and power, to be loosed from our passions. Many of us despair that it is too late, that we cannot turn back from our way, but Christ, who is able to bring Lazarus from the tomb after his body began to stink, can bring you back from the decay of sin.
Come forth! And be loosed from the bands of sin!
Come forth! And be loosed from the bands of corruption!
Come forth! And be loosed from the bands of death!
Let us receive Christ’s gift of forgiveness purchased for us through His Cross and Resurrection, a miracle greater than the raising of the dead, and not squander it. Let us instead be mindful of our end and live according to the Gospel, so that we may be raised with Lazarus on the last day and glorify the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen.