Passion Sunday

20th century Christians have a tendency to picture Jesus as a bit of a loner; maybe He has some sheep around Him or His twelve disciples and a smattering of women, but somehow a lot of the depictions of Jesus made in the last 100 years have Jesus alone or set a little too far apart from the others. But one of the great things about Jesus is that He is not only the Son of the living God, but also a very human man, and being so, He had buddies. Lazarus was one of His buddies, and the Church celebrates Lazarus on the day before Palm Sunday, though we rarely tell anybody that. “In the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the Byzantine Catholic Church, the day before Palm Sunday is celebrated as Lazarus Saturday. This day, together with Palm Sunday, hold a unique position in the church year, as days of joy and triumph between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.”[1] The Lenten fast is still kept on Lazarus Saturday, but it’s eased a bit, and in Russia it’s tradition to eat caviar on Lazarus Saturday, though I have no idea why.

Being a buddy of Jesus was probably no easy or simple thing. The introduction ‘Hi, I’m Jesus, angels sang when I was born and hordes of people follow me wherever I go; want to get a glass of wine?’ might not get you a lot of casual friends. But Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, not only knew who Jesus was and trusted His word, but also managed to hang out with Him, doing whatever was the ancient equivalent of watching the Phillies on a Sunday afternoon. We don’t know when Lazarus and Jesus met, but they would have been natural if not automatic friends. Both were good Jews; Lazarus may have been born into a classy rabbinical family, which may have separated the two socially, but apparently they got over it. The writer “Frederick Baltz identifies Lazarus as Eleazar son of Boethus, a former High Priest. This Eleazar is named by the historian Josephus. Rabbinic literature tells of his sisters, Martha and Miriam. In the context of John 11, the raising of Lazarus, it is “the Jews” who come to Bethany to mourn. “The Jews” is a term for the leadership of the Jewish people, specifically the chief priests. Thus, Lazarus appears to be from among them. His burial in a tomb is another indicator of membership in the upper strata of Jewish society… While there is no further mention of Lazarus in the Bible, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions offer varying accounts of the later events of his life. In the East, Lazarus is most commonly thought to have gone to Cyprus, where he became the first bishop of Kittim (Larnaca). Some Western traditions have Lazarus and his sisters journeying to Provence, France, where Lazarus is said to have been the first Bishop of Marseille. The date of Lazarus’ second death is uncertain.”[2]

His second death. At times it was not easy being Jesus’ buddy, and the phrase ‘second death’ illustrates that fact; Jesus raised Lazarus, but he would one day die again. Death is the underlying subject of the whole eleventh chapter of John; Lazarus is sick and going to die; Jesus suggests going back to Judah, and Thomas reminds Him that the Judeans have already tried to stone Him, and will try again. St. John alludes to the death that awaits Jesus on a cross. Death surrounds the people of John chapter 11, and 2000 years later, death surrounds us still. Just this past week, I’ve said Mass for the souls of five people, five of our friends and neighbors who have died, five friends of Jesus who have gone to meet Him face to face. Death surrounds us, and we learn to expect it even as we do everything in our power to postpone it. And this is where being a friend of Jesus becomes, quite literally, an issue of life or death. Jesus’ good friend Lazarus had died, and in her sorrow his sister Martha grabs hold of Jesus, grabs hold of the one Person who could have chased death away as it closed in on Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus tells Martha, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” I am the resurrection and the life. “Jesus is the resurrection and the life (He himself is the power of life) but for that to mean anything you need either to be already dead, like Lazarus, or expecting death, like everyone in this world must. By way of analogy: If you don’t have typhoid fever and also have some solid reason to think you will never suffer from this somewhat unusual disorder, then how would you react if I came up to you and said, “I am the cure for typhoid fever”? Well, that statement would not have much traction in your life, in that you would not need what I was offering. You would perhaps direct me to someone who did have typhoid fever…”[3] But death, unlike typhoid fever, death comes to us all.

Jesus’ buddy Lazarus met death and then moved into his tomb quite nicely, until the very life of God called him back out into the world. For Lazarus, being a friend of Jesus meant being dragged out of his own tomb only to find out his old friends were plotting to kill him for it. For us, being a friend of Jesus means that even surrounded by death, we need not fear it. It means that we can live as if we have life within us, because in receiving Jesus, we do. It means that our friend who is the resurrection will bring all His friends to a life that’s better than we could imagine to ask for. What a friend we have in Jesus.

[1] Wikipedia
[2] Ibid.
[3] Scott Hoezee, This Week

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