April 6, 2020

Holy Week: Dinner with Him Once Dead

Giotto Lazarus detail

Raising of Lazarus, Giotto

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. (John 12:1-2)

* * *

This story intrigues me. Normally, when reading John 12:1-11, we focus on Mary’s act of anointing Jesus and Judas’s objection to what she did. But the narrative about Mary’s deed is framed with an emphasis on Lazarus. Twice it points out that Lazarus was the one Jesus raised from the dead. To set the stage for the story of the meal, John notes that Lazarus was present at the table with Jesus and that the dinner was given in honor of Jesus — presumably to thank him for restoring Lazarus to life. Then, following the anointing account, the text ends with these words:

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on what it must have been like to have dinner with someone who had recently been a corpse, dead and buried for four days. But that’s a genuine curiosity, don’t you think?

What would American church culture do with this? Can you imagine? With our technological and marketing skills, Lazarus would have been a religious superstar of the highest order. Book and movie contracts. A tour of appearances and interviews. Given our hunger for the supernatural and the sensational, Lazarus’s “experience” would be first proclaimed and promoted, and then dissected and discussed and debated ad nauseum. I’m sure there would be a thousand questions about Lazarus’s “death experience” — what he saw and encountered on the other side. There would, of course, be doubters and those arguing that it couldn’t have happened as advertised because the experiential claims go against sound doctrine. Some would proclaim the event a clear sign that the last days are upon us.

The text itself (along with John 12:17-19, the last mention of Lazarus in the NT) indicates that Lazarus and what Jesus did for him attracted crowds and generated enthusiasm. If true then, can you conceive of the media blitz that would accompany a happening like this today?

Dinner with him once dead. Can we even imagine?

And then it struck me: if the Lord’s Supper is a true sacrament, if Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord is present, and if the baptized who come to the Table are those who “have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life,” (Rom. 6:4), then each time we meet together for Communion, we are having dinner among the once dead.

The crowds may not come.

The event may not make the news.

It may, indeed, seem the very opposite of spectacle and enthusiasm.

But his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink — Jesus’ dying love for the life of the world.

And we who come were once dead, but now live in the risen Christ.

A once in a lifetime experience for Lazarus has now become (at least) an every week event. And you are invited — Dinner with him once dead! With a whole room of people once dead!

Y’all come.

Comments

  1. These paintings have been so wonderful to ponder over. Thanks for bringing them to our attention.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Dinner with him once dead. Can we even imagine?

    I can see the Reality Show Pitch Sessions right now…

  3. If the Lazarus story were to happen today, I bet the majority of people who heard about it would say, “Well, obviously, the man was not really dead to begin with. People dead for days don’t suddenly become alive again. I can’t believe some people are actually believing this nonsense! It just goes to show how gullible people are.” But back when this happened to Lazarus, the community was sure that Lazarus had died. And the fact that Jesus commanded him to come out of the tomb likely scared the Jewish religious leaders to no end. “We cannot have all the people honoring this man, this Jesus. Who does he think he is!”

    Chaplain Mike…it is so easy to forget that we now live in the risen Christ. Life so often just seems so…daily. Thank you for this post.

  4. flatrocker says

    Chaplain Mike,
    Not sure if you’ve heard a song by Darrell Scott called “Lazarus Dies Again”

    I think you could have collaborated with him on this.
    Look for it on Youtube. Definitely worth a listen.

  5. St. Paul reminds the believers of Colossae that they have fullness in Christ, “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” To the Romans, he asserts that ”if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Christians lead a resurrection life of faith, hope and love. We Christians are the dead men walking – “those who have been brought from death to life.” We are no longer our own; we are possessed by God, and we have the mind of Christ. We are the church of the gloriously undead, as we participate in Christ’s life through the Word, and partake in his death and resurrection through the Sacraments. Jesus tells us we will be hated by everyone because of Him. We are, as it were, the zombies of grace. In Body Bag Religion, pastor Greg Williams offers this advice to those of us who are undead by virtue of the stumbling block and foolishness of the Cross:

    Open up the casket, crawl out of the grave, get rid of the grave clothes, throw the body bag away, spit the grave dirt out of your mouth and start to live. Start to dance, because the music of this life doesn’t last forever. Start living today before it’s too late.

  6. I have heard that there is an old church legend that says after Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, Lazarus never smiled again. Maybe some of my fellow commenters have heard of this and can verify or refute it’s veracity.

    Whether it is true or not, I have meditated on it for many hours in the years since I heard it.

  7. There is a character in the novel ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ who is heavily implied to be Lazarus, who has simply gone on living and never died again. He pops up at different points in the novel’s roughly thousand year timeline of a future monastery in Utah. Oddly, he has remained Jewish in belief, but has a friendly relationship with at least one of the monastery’s long line of abbots. I don’t know if the depiction is based on some obscure Christian legend about Lazarus or if the author just made it up.

    • David Logsdon says

      I have also read ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ several times and wondered about that character. I read where the character is supposed to be “The Wandering Jew”. Not sure who he is. Will have to Google search.