Jesus has power over death. Jesus restores Lazarus to life just as YHWH promises through Ezekiel’s prophecy that the exiled, despairing people of Israel will once again be renewed as a nation.
So it is with those who feel dead to themselves and others when the Spirit of God breathes life into their withered lives. Where there is no animating spirit, even as a person is “alive,” there is no joy or shared energy, no creative giving to the needs of family and friends.
We might see Paul’s letter to the Romans as a summons to see the images of movement from death to life revolving around how we focus attention and intention. Do we live with hopelessness because we do not have everything we want? Or do we fail to see what we have been given?
With credit to Quaker insights, Jennifer Copeland recommends Parker Palmer’s fine book, Let Your Life Speak (Jossey-Bass, 2000) because he asserts that when Way ends, “Way will open.”
To live with hope does not mean I always get my way. It means that the way I get becomes my way. The way that is given to me becomes my way. –– Jennifer Copeland
The center of the account is Jesus' exchange with Martha. Martha identifies Jesus with significant titles that were already introduced in this gospel (11:27). While her identification is the strongest Christological profession on the part of any disciple in John's gospel, Jesus' claims that he is the resurrection and that belief in him insures that one will never die (11:25–26) constitute the message of this text.
However, other points can be noted. It is possible that Jesus' delay in going to Bethany after first hearing of Lazarus' illness is a way to acknowledge that early Christian expectations of imminent Parousia were unfounded; the Lord determines the time of his coming and is in fact already and always present among his followers. However, it is also true that the author of the fourth gospel uses delays elsewhere to enhance meaning.
. . . At first Jesus states that Lazarus was asleep. This was the way early Christians spoke of death—as sleep—to express their anticipation of resurrection. When Jesus then states that Lazarus was dead, he also recognizes that Christian life is not devoid of real suffering and death. Just as her sister, Mary's first word to Jesus states that had he been present their brother would not have died (v 11:33). It is after Jesus sees Mary weeping that he also weeps. It is here that the human Jesus affirms that the death of loved ones is a painful human experience. Thus, the story unfolds to indicate a Jesus angry at the reality of death.
Jesus' call to Lazarus is illustrative of the call to eternal life he indicated to Mary, that those who recognize that he is resurrection will live even should they die. At the same time, Lazarus's emergence from the tomb also speaks of the transformation of sinners in light of faith in Christ. –– Regina Boisclair
The prophet Ezekiel is witness to the dry bones coming alive which serves as an image for Ezekiel that his prophetic word to Israel must assure them that even what seems dead and gone through exile and desiccation can, yet, be restored.
. . . God's restoration is imaged as being raised out of the grave and reanimated by the Spirit. It is a word of assurance: the people will be given God's spirit, resettled in their land, and enabled to know that their God is indeed God. . . . For Christians this story from the history of Israel becomes a metaphor for baptism and a paradigm for Christian life. –– Regina Boisclair
Paul claims those in the flesh are concerned with things that effect death while those who live according to the Spirit are concerned with things that effect life and peace. Those of the flesh are hostile to God and fail to please God. The Spirit dwells within those “in Christ” since they submit to God's law and are alive and righteous. –– Regina Boisclair
Jennifer Copeland, a United Methodist ordained minister, served for 16 years as chaplain at Duke University and as director of the Duke Wesley Fellowship. She is currently executive director at North Carolina Council of Churches in Raleigh-Durham.
Regina Boisclair, a Roman Catholic biblical scholar, teaches at Alaska Pacific University, Anchorage, Alaska.
Homily Service 41, no. 2 (2008): 63-75.