We most readily associate the raising of Lazarus in John 11 with, of course, Lazarus. His name is universally synonymous with resurrection. But someone who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what a superstar she is in John 11 is Lazarus’ sister, Martha. Almost every memorable thing Jesus says throughout the story he says because Martha has drawn it out of him. It’s because Martha has struck up a conversation that Jesus has this to say: “I am the resurrection and the life. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
It’s a difficult thing for our minds to wrangle with, but Jesus is not only the giver of our life, but the very life by which we call ourselves alive. He is the very breath by which our lungs contract and expand, the nutrition by which we gain strength, the awareness by which we gaze upon the world around us. Do we believe this?
No matter what illness, physical or spiritual, the life of Jesus, the life that is Jesus himself, is finding its way into our bones, into our hearts and minds. The life of Jesus himself is what is animating us to life, putting movement in our feet, words in our mouths, breath in our lungs, faith in our hearts, strength in our bodies. Jesus raises Lazarus so that Mary and Martha, so that you and I, would believe, would trust that he can do and is doing the very same for us, so that the glory of God would flood our world with the loveliest aroma. To follow Jesus is to awaken to this, not doubting, not falling asleep, but daily waking up to the life-giving presence of God in our midst, whether at church, at work, in bed, in frustration, in pain and confusion, in all of it.
Jesus performs these signs to stir belief within us. In the Gospel of John, what we believe determines everything about us. Belief is not opinion. We don’t say, “I believe” the same way we say “I think.” What we believe in – it’s where we are willing to place our deep, abiding trust in that which saves and renews us. So as Jesus speaks to Martha, knowing exactly the trick he has up his sleeve, he stirs up belief within her. “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die – do you believe this?” Then, Martha raises her objection to her decaying brother’s tomb being opened. So Jesus stirs belief within her again. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” This doesn’t mean that we have to believe hard enough to force God into doing something. Believing means opening our eyes to the presence of God in our midst here and now. When we do that, the glory of God that was never absent in the first place now becomes brightly visible.
God is powerfully present in our midst, on a Sunday morning, in our daily and weekly routines, in our grief, in whatever state of decay we find ourselves in. God is finding his way into everything in our lives and in our world that is dead and decaying, and he is speaking words of life, words of resurrection. When Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out!” we see, with the eyes of faith, ourselves being remade, and all of creation being remade.
We stand with Martha as Jesus asks us, “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” And we answer with Martha, “Yes, Lord, we believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”