In the Lectionary

March 29, Lent 5A (John 11:1–45)

Lazarus’s story is one of grief—and hope.

The raising of Lazarus is a big story with oversized themes. There’s love and pain, doubt and faith, death and resurrection. The story prepares us for Holy Week by preparing us to deal with grief.

Grief is complicated. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—were intended to describe the emotions of the dying. While these stages might be applied to anyone experiencing loss, each person grieves in their own way, repeating or skipping steps along the way. There is no typical way to grieve, just as there is no typical loss.

Certainly the loss of Lazarus is not typical—not for his sisters, and not for his friend Jesus. John uses the word love three times to describe the depth of Jesus’ relationship with Lazarus. John does not describe what is at stake for the sisters, and perhaps he does not need to do so. Siblings are our oldest friends and our first enemies, holders of our history and bearers of our future. In Mary and Martha’s context, Lazarus might be even more important. No husband, father, or son appears in the sisters’ story. Scholars posit that Lazarus filled the role of patriarch, holding the family property and providing for his sisters’ maintenance. There’s no telling what might happen should Mary and Martha lose their protector.