"When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some 2 miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother...
"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.’"
—(John 11:17-19 and 21-25, NRSV)
(An imaginary and personal encounter)
By Bob Hayes
Reporter for the OKUMC Press
Near BETHANY, Israel—Can you ever recall a time in your life when the air was so charged with electricity that you sensed something was about to happen?
This was one of those times.
I had been camped just outside of Bethany, which is only a stone’s throw from Jerusalem, with Jesus and his disciples. I’ve been traveling with this remarkable man as he makes his way to the Holy City to observe the yearly Jewish Passover.
Throughout this journey I have witnessed so many people pressing in on him—to see him, hear him, even just to touch his clothing. This has been an unbelievable experience! When we were in the village of Bethsaida, I witnessed him healing a blind man; in the city of Caesarea Philippi I got close enough to hear him ask, "Who do people say I am?"
And all along the way I have noticed people who have delivered warnings of danger to Jesus. They tell him to stay away from Jerusalem because Herod has threatened Jesus’ life. He shuns those warnings; he simply says he has a date with destiny.
The disciples and I have no idea what that means. We have continued to follow him, simply to be in his presence.
But I admit this reporter has felt a growing sense of apprehension. As it turned out, my instincts about something happening came true.
Late one night at the campsite, word reached Jesus that the brother of Mary and Martha—Lazarus—was ill. They asked Jesus to come right away to their Bethany home.
But instead of going immediately to see about his friend, Jesus chose to stay camped out two more days! And, when asked why he didn’t go at once, Jesus said, "I am glad I was not there—just so you could believe."
Jesus says a lot of things I don’t understand, and that remark was yet another mystery.
I certainly know that Bethany means "house of misery," and that meaning became so applicable when we learned later that Lazarus had died. Jesus knew Mary and Martha would be angry and sorrowful, but he informed us that he was ready at last to go to Bethany to see his friend.
Among ourselves, his followers murmured, "Why?" If Lazarus was already dead, why was there any need for us to go?
When we arrived at the house of Mary and Martha, people from all over the community had already gathered, to console the sisters. Mary was so mad that she didn’t even come out to greet Jesus.
Martha charged at him, declaring, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died!" Jesus tried to reassure her, but I saw that her pain and loss were so heavy she could neither hear nor understand what Jesus was saying.
Jesus used words that I never before have heard a human being say. He said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live."
Quickly I looked at the faces of those close enough to hear what Jesus said. I couldn’t believe my own ears. What did he say? Did he say he is the resurrection? Does he mean that he has the power over life and death? Can this be true?
Then Jesus walked to the tomb where Lazarus had been buried. He asked that the stone covering the grave be rolled away. The pain and disbelief of Mary, Martha, and all of us brought him to tears. In a prayerful voice, he thanked God for always being present to hear him and asked that God’s power work through him.
Loudly, he called, "Lazarus, come out!"
And suddenly I saw! The dead man came out of his tomb! He was still bound in strips of cloth, from face to feet, and Jesus said to shocked onlookers, "Unbind him, and let him go!"
It was the day that death died. Now I am able to solve the mysteries surrounding who Jesus is! With this single act of defeating death, everything becomes crystal clear. New life—eternal life—is suddenly more than possibility—it now is a promise to those who believe!
What a fitting end to a story that has taken me into the heart of the Christian message.
So this reporter is signing off—Wait!—I realize this story has not ended. Another chapter awaits Jesus, in the city of Jerusalem, on a hill called Calvary.
And, deep within my heart, now I somehow know that YOU are the person who can finish the story. You will record what happens on that dark Friday and on that glorious Easter morning. Only you can describe what you see, hear, and tell others.
My fervent Easter prayer is that your first words on that "great getting-up morning" will be the same words of the angels, the women, and the disciples: HE LIVES! HE LIVES!
("In That Great Getting Up Morning" is by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.)