Take Away the Stone

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Fifth Sunday of Lent

John 11:1-45

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.  Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him. 

Opening Prayer: 

Lord, I wish to have you roll away the stone which is sealing my heart and help me to be abundantly alive in you. I pray for the grace of a happy death.

Encountering Christ: 

  1. “The One You Love Is Ill”: There was much activity in the beginning of this account. Jesus received alarming news about a dear friend. Life in Jerusalem was becoming dangerously tense. The disciples still lacked understanding and cohesion. But Jesus always had clarity and did not stumble. When his Father could be most glorified, Jesus acted. Our lives can be complicated, sometimes very complicated. When we find ourselves in troubling circumstances we can imitate Our Lord by seeking only to glorify the Father with our actions and words. Lord, please help us to see with your eyes; help us to always turn to you in prayer and act in ways that glorify God.  
  2. “The Teacher Is Here and Is Asking for You”: Amidst the danger and confusion, Jesus went to Bethany and there encountered Martha. True to form, Martha was anxious, but Jesus was patient and led her to a beautiful confession of faith. Jesus also saw past the obvious intensity of the situation, and with tender sensitivity, asked for Mary, who he knew was quietly at home, mourning the loss of her brother, Lazarus. In this deeply painful moment, he sought her out. And when she went to him and shared her anguish, he revealed the tenderness of his heart. He “became perturbed and deeply troubled,” and wept. It is said that in Jesus’s time, they recognized his humanity but wrestled with his divinity, whereas today we recognize his divinity but wrestle with his humanity. What a gift to read about these moments where Jesus reveals his humanity and his tender love, and to accept his tender and personal love toward us as well.
  3. “Take Away the Stone”: Jesus was not afraid to enter into the ugliest of places to bring life. He did this on a natural level with Lazarus when he had the gravestone removed, and he does this in our stony hearts as well. There are dark places in our hearts–regrets, painful memories, or festering wounds–which can be likened to an interior death. Too often we seal them in with a heavy stone of denial, when we should instead beg Our Lord to take away the stone, remove the self-protective bandages, and bring us back to the fullness of life.

Conversing with Christ: Dear Lord, what a mess I can be—like the living dead or walking wounded. Help me to turn to you and recognize you as the source of my resurrection and life. Help me to believe and live!

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will pray for the souls of those who will die this day, that they may enjoy the grace of a happy death.

For Further Reflection: You may wish to consider how in The Reed of God author Caryll Houselander encourages us not to focus on our lack of ability, but rather to be open to allowing God to work through us. She mentions various imperfections of persons in Scripture, and drives her point home by singling out Lazarus. Being dead, he epitomizes someone with little to offer(!); in fact, the author notes that his friends go so far as to share that “he stinks.” And yet he is arguably the most incredible witness to the power of Jesus! 

written by Mary Wolff

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