Session 5: The Tomb | Preparing for Prayer
The prayer of each part of this retreat invites you to a different way of growing more still, more focussed, in preparation for hearing God’s word.
The prayer of each part of this retreat invites you to a different way of growing more still, more focussed, in preparation for hearing God’s word. Today you could begin by picking up some kind of physical object, something that you can comfortably hold. It could be a cup, or a piece of fruit, a feather, or a pebble.
If there is nothing else to hand, you might focus on a piece of clothing that you are wearing. Choose something, and sit quietly for a moment with it.
Now turn this object over in your hands. Look closely at it. Notice how it feels, how heavy it is, whether it is rough or smooth, hard or soft. Let your whole attention, for a few moments, be focussed on this object that you’re holding.
Now take a second look. What is there about this object that you didn’t notice the first time around? What is it that makes it unique, one of a kind? Even if it’s something mass-produced, there will be something about it that separates it out from others of its kind.
Spend just a little more time appreciating the object that you selected, something that is ultimately a part of God’s creation. Then listen to this story of resurrection and life from the Gospel of John… Following the reading, we invite you pause and use our supplementary Lectio Divina guide to help you meditate on the scripture in a deeper way.
Reading: John 11:1-45
Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
The Death of Lazarus
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
Jesus the Resurrection and the Life
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
The Plot to Kill Jesus
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
• Two weeks in advance of the festival of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are invited to prepare for it by listening to the story of Lazarus, the man who died but was called back by Jesus from the grave to life. The story is a complex one with many characters. Jesus himself dominates the drama and at its centre, proclaiming himself as ‘the resurrection and the life’. Two characters in particular, the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, struggled to accept this claim.
• Each sister responds in her own way to the death of her brother. Martha expresses her belief in resurrection at the last day, and on hearing Jesus’s claim to be ‘the resurrection and the life’ she expresses her faith in him as ‘the Son of God who was to come into the world’. Yet when Jesus comes to the tomb, she seems to have forgotten her faith in him and warns Jesus that her brother has been dead for four days.
• Mary, introduced at the beginning of the story as the person who had anointed the Lord with ointment before he went to his death, comes to the tomb and, together with other mourners, gives way to her tears. She too seems to lack faith in Jesus as ‘the resurrection and the life’.
Talk to God
Imagine for a moment that you are Lazarus…returning to your daily life after this experience… what would that be like?
• Jesus wept too, but a different word for his weeping is used in the original Greek. Many believe that Jesus wept because of the faithless response of the two sisters to the death of their brother; their behaviour when confronted with death was not what we would expect of people who accept Jesus as ‘the resurrection and the life’. The quality of this new resurrected life is hinted at in the appearance of Lazarus as he emerged from the tomb. If you placed yourself into this scene, how might you have responded to seeing Lazarus leaving the tomb? With disbelief? With awe? Fear maybe?
• Lazarus was still wearing his grave clothes and had returned to this life only to die again. He experienced resuscitation rather than resurrection. In contrast, when Jesus rose from the tomb on Easter Day, he left his grave clothes behind in the tomb (John 20:6-7). Imagine for a moment that you are Lazarus…returning to your daily life after this experience… what would that be like?
• The new life of resurrection which he now lived teaches us about the new life which is God’s gift to us as a result of the events we commemorate yearly at Easter time. Bring whatever has stirred in you during this time of prayer to the Lord now…