Worship Helps for Lent 5

The Raising of Lazarus
Sebastiano del Piombo 1519

Sebastiano completed the painting in January 1519 and it was immediately hailed as an artistic triumph. Michelangelo Buonarroti befriended Sebastiano, and he became one of the rare and trusted friends of Michelangelo. The friendship, however, drew Sebastiano into the long running rivalry between Raphael Sanzio.

Cardinal Guilio de’Medici had commissioned Raphael to create a large altarpiece depicting “Christ’s Transfiguration” for the cathedral in Narbonne. The Cardinal also commissioned Sebastiano to create “The Raising of Lazarus” as a large altarpiece for Narbonne’s cathedral. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to commission two paintings for the same cathedral, but many believe today – and in the 1500s – that the cardinal was pitting the two artists against each other. The Cardinal, of course, was well aware of the artistic rivalry between Michelangelo and Raphael. Michelangelo was very willing to lend Sebastiano a hand with the work by supplying him with sketches that could be incorporated into “The Raising of Lazarus.”

You can read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. A portion of these verses are used in our Lutheran churches this Sunday for the Gospel lesson for the 5th Sunday in Lent.

Sebastiano’s painting depicts specifically verses 40-44: “Then Jesus said, Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”

In the painting, Christ is standing in the foreground. He is pointing toward the seated figure of Lazarus, who is still partly covered by his burial shroud. As the Word made flesh, there is power in Jesus’ words. It is that Word that created life in Adam, calling him out of the dust of the ground. It is that same Word that now creates life in Lazarus, calling him out of the grave before he can become the dust of the ground.

Lazarus is portrayed by Sebastiano as a strong, mature man. You can definitely see the influence of Michelangelo in Lazarus.

All around Jesus are men and women. Mary, Martha and, their brother, Lazarus, were popular people in small town of Bethany. Many, no doubt, also traveled from Jerusalem, which only two miles away from Bethany.
On the left, mid-ground, there is a group of Pharisees who are unimpressed with what they have seen. They demanded miraculous signs from Jesus, but then immediately discounted them. They are still hell-bent on plotting the death of the so-called miracle worker.

While the Pharisees refuse to believe what they see, many others who are gathered at the tomb are holding up their hands in shock in disbelief at seeing the previously dead Lazarus coming back to life. Others talk together discussing what they see before them.  There is an old man on the lower left, hands clasped in prayer as he looks up at Jesus.

Mary is on her knees to the right of Jesus, her hand placed over her heart. She had once sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach her in her home. Now she has returned to the ground before the Lord, approaching Him in faith.
Martha is dressed in a blue robe with a red sash and stands to the right of Jesus. She has her hands up and her head turned away. She is recoiling from the sight and smell of Lazarus, for he has been dead for four days.

As you meditate upon this painting, also meditate upon the question that Jesus poses to Martha. As you see Lazarus alive after being buried for four days, do you believe that Jesus has power over death – your death, Lazarus’ death, His own death? “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Worship Theme: Jesus will raise us from death to life. The crown jewel of the coming kingdom is the resurrection of the dead. One day, Jesus will defeat the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:27) and life will reign again in our new Eden with God. On our Lenten walk to Calvary, the Church sees the Savior come face to face with death and defeat it completely. During our Lenten walk, we ask God to help us remember that Jesus, who is resurrection and life, has made us heirs of eternal life.

Old Testament: 2 Kings 4:18-37 The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers. 19 "My head! My head!" he said to his father. His father told a servant, "Carry him to his mother." 20 After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died. 21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out. 22 She called her husband and said, "Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return." 23 "Why go to him today?" he asked. "It's not the New Moon or the Sabbath." "It's all right," she said. 24 She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, "Lead on; don't slow down for me unless I tell you." 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, "Look! There's the Shunammite! 26 Run to meet her and ask her, 'Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?'" "Everything is all right," she said. 27 When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, "Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me why." 28 "Did I ask you for a son, my lord?" she said. "Didn't I tell you, 'Don't raise my hopes'?" 29 Elisha said to Gehazi, "Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy's face." 30 But the child's mother said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So he got up and followed her. 31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy's face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, "The boy has not awakened." 32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy's body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. 36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, "Call the Shunammite." And he did. When she came, he said, "Take your son." 37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.

1. How does this story give comfort to us when tragedy strikes?

Epistle: Romans 8:11-19 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. 12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation-- but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs-- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

2. Through his Spirit, Paul says, God has breathed new life into our mortal bodies (v 11). What changes does that bring about?

3. Though life in Christ Jesus means sharing his suffering, what other observation is made?

Gospel: John 11:17-27,38-45 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." … 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." 40 Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

4. What does Jesus mean by saying that he is life?

5. How would Mary and Martha see the glory of God in the raising of Lazarus?


Answers:
1. The story is heartbreaking: a barren woman gives birth to a promised child. All her hopes and love wrapped themselves up in this little boy, until the day his head hurt. He died in his mother’s lap while she rocked him. Can you imagine the tears? Death is the bitter lot we inherited from Adam. But God wants us to know that even in the face of a death as heartrending as this, he promises that whoever believes in him will live, even though he dies. So he lets Elisha pay an advance on the inheritance waiting for the coheirs of Christ, that we might know and believe that Jesus one day will raise us from death to life.

2. Paul previously had said that those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (verses 5-8). We now seek to put to death the misdeeds of the body (verse 13) and willingly share in Christ’s suffering with a view also to sharing in his glory (verse 17).

3. Paul suggests a wise perspective: our present sufferings are “not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  As a runner endures the pain of the exertion by keeping his eyes focused on the finish line, so the Christian’s perspective will always be goal-oriented.  What waits for us at the end far outshines the clouds that we encounter along the way.

4. More than saying that he is the source of life or the giver of life, Jesus for the first time (see also 14:6) claims to be life itself. There is no life apart from him. As life itself, final death is impossible for him. The events surrounding the raising of Lazarus occur just days before the Passion events in Jerusalem. What a comfort to know that Jesus was confidently assured of the outcome of his upcoming battle with evil—he would be victorious!

5. Jesus performed the greatest miracle of his ministry to prove to us the certainty of his greatest promise. Death has hounded mankind since the garden and caused misery that God never intended for his children. When Christ saw the effects of death on his loved ones, he wept with them, but also promised them that one day even this last enemy would be defeated. Martha, too often remembered for her busyness, should be remembered for her confession of faith—so complete, so noble—that encompassed everything Jesus had preached. It even encompassed teachings the disciples struggled to comprehend! She believed in Jesus’ promise of a future resurrection, and so Jesus gave proof to her and to us that his promise is true. By that same faith, he will give to us the crown jewel of the kingdom. The one who is resurrection and life will also give resurrection and life to all who believe. Jesus’ victory in this battle with death was a forgone conclusion: he thanked God for it in advance. But Lazarus’ response to the command of Christ stirs the heart of every Christian who has stared at the ugly face of death: the dead man came out.


Putting your faith into action
True stewardship is not based on the question of “how much”—how much time, how much money, etc. Rather it is based on the gospel giving us life. Without the gospel our works are like dead bodies. Through the gospel the Holy Spirit breathes life into us and enables us to please God with our stewardship.

A reading from the Book of Concord for the 5th Sunday in Lent
1] And since even in the ancient Christian teachers of the Church, as well as in some among our teachers, dissimilar explanations of the article concerning the descent of Christ to hell are found, we abide in like manner by the simplicity of our Christian faith [comprised in the Creed], to which Dr. Luther in his sermon, which was delivered in the castle at Torgau in the year 1533, concerning the descent of Christ to hell, has pointed us, where we confess: I believe in the Lord Christ, God's Son, our Lord, dead, buried, and descended into hell. For in this [Confession] the burial and descent of Christ to hell are distinguished as different articles; 2] and we simply believe that the entire person, God and man, after the burial descended into hell, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of hell, and took from the devil all his might. 3]We should not, however, trouble ourselves with high and acute thoughts as to how this occurred; for with our reason and our five senses this article can be comprehended as little as the preceding one, how Christ is placed at the right hand of the almighty power and majesty of God; but we are simply to believe it and adhere to the Word [in such mysteries of faith]. Thus we retain the substance [sound doctrine] and [true] consolation that neither hell nor the devil can take captive or injure us and all who believe in Christ. – Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article IX, Christ's Descent To Hell (paragraphs 1-3)

Hymns: 607; 214; 110; 588

1  Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!

2  Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me!

3  Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for ev’ry plea;
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

4  Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me oft as I left thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

5  I need thy presence ev’ry passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, oh, abide with me!

6  I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if thou abide with me.

7  Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!


Text: Henry F. Lyte, 1793–1847, abr., alt.

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