Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A note on three of this evening’s hymns

‘The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ (John 4: 14) … A hidden waterfall above the beach at Loughshinny Co Dublin (Photograph; Patrick Comerford) (from the cover of the booklet for this evening’s Community Eucharist)

Patrick Comerford

Our processional hymn at the Community Eucharist this evening [30 March 2011], The Lenten Prose (Hymn 208, Church Hymnal, 5th edition), is a plainsong responsory from a 10th century Mozarabic litany, Attende Domine, and is a beautiful plea for God’s mercy. The first line is sung as a response between the verses and the English translation allows it to be sung to the traditional chant.

The Lenten Prose was introduced to modern hymnody by Dom Joseph Pothier, the Benedictine liturgist at Solesmes, in 1895, and was first adapted in English by WJ Birkbeck (1859-1916) in the English Hymnal (1906), which he co-edited with Percy Dearmer and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Birkbeck, whose grandmother was from Co Galway, was a devout Anglican who worked to increase understanding in England of pre-revolutionary Russia and the Russian Church. In 1913, he was the Birkbeck Lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at Trinity College Cambridge.

Vaughan Williams wrote the settings for both ‘Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life’ and ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’

The setting for our Gradual, I heard the voice of Jesus say (Church Hymnal, 576), is Kingsfold by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)., who was one of the greatest English composers of the last century and the musical editor of The English Hymnal, which he co-edited with Dearmer and Birkbeck.

Vaughan Williams also wrote the tune for this evening’s offertory hymn, Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life. The words are from The Call, a poem by George Herbert (1593-1633), published in a posthumous collection of poetry, The Temple, in Cambridge in 1633.

The Call is essentially a meditation on Christ’s words to the Apostle Thomas: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14: 6). Herbert adds a number of additional allusions and offers real food for thought in the way he develops his theme. Because of the structure of each of the three stanzas, this poem is often described as “a trinity of trinities.”

George Herbert’s ‘Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life’ was first published as the poem ‘The Call’ in his posthumous collection, ‘The Temple’

Herbert had been an MP and a Jacobean courtier before he was ordained in 1630, encouraged by Nicholas Ferrar and his community in Little Gidding. As Rector of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton St Andrew, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, Herbert was unfailing in his care for his parishioners, bringing the Sacrament to those who were ill and food and clothing to those in need. There he also began writing poetry, and shortly before he died he sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, who later arranged for its publication. Other hymns from The Temple in the Church Hymnal include King of glory, King of peace (358) and Let all the world in every corner sing (360).

Vaughan Williams, like Herbert, studied at Trinity College Cambridge. He retained the title The Call for his setting for this hymn, which was first published as the fourth of his Five Mystical Songs in 1911. However, the harmonisations of this evening’s hymn version are not identical to the original by Vaughan Williams – instead, the version in the Church Hymnal combines the first half of the version in BBC Songs of Praise (1997) with the second half from the Cambridge Hymnal (1967).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute

The Raising of Lazarus, John 11: 1-45

The Raising of Lazarus, Juan de Flandes, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Patrick Comerford

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Sunday after next, the Fifth Sunday in Lent [10 April 2011], are: Ezekiel: 37: 1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8: 6-11; and John 11: 1-45.

John 11: 1-45

1 ἦν δέ τις ἀσθενῶν, Λάζαρος ἀπὸ Βηθανίας, ἐκ τῆς κώμης Μαρίας καὶ Μάρθαςτῆς ἀδελφῆς αὐτῆς. 2 ἦν δὲ Μαριὰμ ἡ ἀλείψασα τὸν κύριον μύρῳ καὶ ἐκμάξασατοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ ταῖς θριξὶν αὐτῆς, ἧς ὁ ἀδελφὸς Λάζαρος ἠσθένει. 3 ἀπέστειλανοὖν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ πρὸς αὐτὸν λέγουσαι, Κύριε, ἴδε ὃν φιλεῖς ἀσθενεῖ. 4 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁἸησοῦς εἶπεν, Αὕτη ἡ ἀσθένεια οὐκ ἔστιν πρὸς θάνατον ἀλλ' ὑπὲρ τῆς δόξης τοῦθεοῦ, ἵνα δοξασθῇ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ δι' αὐτῆς. 5 ἠγάπα δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν Μάρθαν καὶτὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν Λάζαρον. 6 ὡς οὖν ἤκουσεν ὅτι ἀσθενεῖ, τότε μὲνἔμεινεν ἐν ᾧ ἦν τόπῳ δύο ἡμέρας:

7 ἔπειτα μετὰ τοῦτο λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς, Ἄγωμενεἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν πάλιν. 8 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταί, Ῥαββί, νῦν ἐζήτουν σελιθάσαι οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, καὶ πάλιν ὑπάγεις ἐκεῖ; 9 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς, Οὐχὶ δώδεκα ὧραίεἰσιν τῆς ἡμέρας; ἐάν τις περιπατῇ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ, οὐ προσκόπτει, ὅτι τὸ φῶς τοῦκόσμου τούτου βλέπει: 10 ἐὰν δέ τις περιπατῇ ἐν τῇ νυκτί, προσκόπτει, ὅτι τὸ φῶς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν αὐτῷ.11 ταῦτα εἶπεν, καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο λέγει αὐτοῖς, Λάζαρος ὁ φίλος ἡμῶν κεκοίμηται, ἀλλὰ πορεύομαι ἵναἐξυπνίσω αὐτόν. 12 εἶπαν οὖν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτῷ, Κύριε, εἰ κεκοίμηται σωθήσεται. 13 εἰρήκει δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς περὶτοῦ θανάτου αὐτοῦ. ἐκεῖνοι δὲ ἔδοξαν ὅτι περὶ τῆς κοιμήσεως τοῦ ὕπνου λέγει. 14 τότε οὖν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁἸησοῦς παρρησίᾳ, Λάζαρος ἀπέθανεν, 15 καὶ χαίρω δι' ὑμᾶς, ἵνα πιστεύσητε, ὅτι οὐκ ἤμην ἐκεῖ: ἀλλὰἄγωμεν πρὸς αὐτόν. 16 εἶπεν οὖν Θωμᾶς ὁ λεγόμενος Δίδυμος τοῖς συμμαθηταῖς, Ἄγωμεν καὶ ἡμεῖς ἵναἀποθάνωμεν μετ' αὐτοῦ.

17 Ἐλθὼν οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εὗρεν αὐτὸν τέσσαρας ἤδη ἡμέρας ἔχοντα ἐν τῷ μνημείῳ.18 ἦν δὲ ἡ Βηθανία ἐγγὺς τῶν Ἱεροσολύμων ὡς ἀπὸ σταδίων δεκαπέντε. 19 πολλοὶ δὲ ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίωνἐληλύθεισαν πρὸς τὴν Μάρθαν καὶ Μαριὰμ ἵνα παραμυθήσωνται αὐτὰς περὶ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ. 20 ἡ οὖνΜάρθα ὡς ἤκουσεν ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἔρχεται ὑπήντησεν αὐτῷ: Μαριὰμ δὲ ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ ἐκαθέζετο. 21 εἶπεν οὖν ἡΜάρθα πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, Κύριε, εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἂν ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός μου: 22 [ἀλλὰ] καὶ νῦν οἶδα ὅτι ὅσαἂν αἰτήσῃ τὸν θεὸν δώσει σοι ὁ θεός. 23 λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀναστήσεται ὁ ἀδελφός σου. 24 λέγει αὐτῷ ἡΜάρθα, Οἶδα ὅτι ἀναστήσεται ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. 25 εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή: ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ κἂν ἀποθάνῃ ζήσεται, 26 καὶ πᾶς ὁ ζῶν καὶ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ οὐμὴ ἀποθάνῃ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα: πιστεύεις τοῦτο; 27 λέγει αὐτῷ, Ναί, κύριε: ἐγὼ πεπίστευκα ὅτι σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸςὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἐρχόμενος.

28 Καὶ τοῦτο εἰποῦσα ἀπῆλθεν καὶ ἐφώνησεν Μαριὰμ τὴνἀδελφὴν αὐτῆς λάθρᾳ εἰποῦσα, Ὁ διδάσκαλος πάρεστιν καὶ φωνεῖ σε. 29 ἐκείνη δὲ ὡς ἤκουσεν ἠγέρθηταχὺ καὶ ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν: 30 οὔπω δὲ ἐληλύθει ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν κώμην, ἀλλ' ἦν ἔτι ἐν τῷ τόπῳ ὅπουὑπήντησεν αὐτῷ ἡ Μάρθα. 31 οἱ οὖν Ἰουδαῖοι οἱ ὄντες μετ' αὐτῆς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ καὶ παραμυθούμενοι αὐτήν,ἰδόντες τὴν Μαριὰμ ὅτι ταχέως ἀνέστη καὶ ἐξῆλθεν, ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῇ, δόξαντες ὅτι ὑπάγει εἰς τὸμνημεῖον ἵνα κλαύσῃ ἐκεῖ. 32 ἡ οὖν Μαριὰμ ὡς ἦλθεν ὅπου ἦν Ἰησοῦς ἰδοῦσα αὐτὸν ἔπεσεν αὐτοῦ πρὸςτοὺς πόδας, λέγουσα αὐτῷ, Κύριε, εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἄν μου ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός. 33 Ἰησοῦς οὖν ὡς εἶδεν αὐτὴνκλαίουσαν καὶ τοὺς συνελθόντας αὐτῇ Ἰουδαίους κλαίοντας, ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι καὶ ἐτάραξενἑαυτόν, 34 καὶ εἶπεν, Ποῦ τεθείκατε αὐτόν; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε. 35 ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς. 36 ἔλεγον οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, Ἴδε πῶς ἐφίλει αὐτόν. 37 τινὲς δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν εἶπαν, Οὐκ ἐδύνατο οὗτος ὁ ἀνοίξαςτοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς τοῦ τυφλοῦ ποιῆσαι ἵνα καὶ οὗτος μὴ ἀποθάνῃ;

38 Ἰησοῦς οὖν πάλιν ἐμβριμώμενος ἐνἑαυτῷ ἔρχεται εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον: ἦν δὲ σπήλαιον, καὶ λίθος ἐπέκειτο ἐπ' αὐτῷ. 39 λέγει ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἄρατε τὸνλίθον. λέγει αὐτῷ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τοῦ τετελευτηκότος Μάρθα, Κύριε, ἤδη ὄζει, τεταρταῖος γάρ ἐστιν. 40 λέγειαὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οὐκ εἶπόν σοι ὅτι ἐὰν πιστεύσῃς ὄψῃ τὴν δόξαν τοῦ θεοῦ; 41 ἦραν οὖν τὸν λίθον. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἦρεν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἄνω καὶ εἶπεν, Πάτερ, εὐχαριστῶ σοι ὅτι ἤκουσάς μου. 42 ἐγὼ δὲ ᾔδειν ὅτιπάντοτέ μου ἀκούεις: ἀλλὰ διὰ τὸν ὄχλον τὸν περιεστῶτα εἶπον, ἵνα πιστεύσωσιν ὅτι σύ με ἀπέστειλας.43 καὶ ταῦτα εἰπὼν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ ἐκραύγασεν, Λάζαρε, δεῦρο ἔξω. 44 ἐξῆλθεν ὁ τεθνηκὼς δεδεμένος τοὺςπόδας καὶ τὰς χεῖρας κειρίαις, καὶ ἡ ὄψις αὐτοῦ σουδαρίῳ περιεδέδετο. λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Λύσατεαὐτὸν καὶ ἄφετε αὐτὸν ὑπάγειν.

45 Πολλοὶ οὖν ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων, οἱ ἐλθόντες πρὸς τὴν Μαριὰμ καὶθεασάμενοι ἃ ἐποίησεν, ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόν.


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.’

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?’

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.’

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Rembrandt, The raising of Lazarus, ca 1630, Los Angeles County Museum of Art


In the Gospel according to Saint John, the raising of Lazarus from the dead is the last and the greatest of the seven Signs performed by Christ. We also have here the fifth of the “I AM” sayings: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11: 25).

The Raising of Lazarus is the crowning miracle or sign, revealing Jesus as the giver of life and precipitating his death. But this sign is also the immediate cause of his death, for this is the sign that convinces the religious leaders in Jerusalem that they must get rid of Jesus. And so, the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Christ is an appropriate Sign to recall as a prelude to Holy Week, as we prepare for the climax of Lent and to mark the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Saturday after this reading – the Saturday before Palm Sunday – is known traditionally in the Orthodox Church as Lazarus Saturday, and the appointed Gospel reading is this reading, John 11: 1-45. In the Orthodox Church, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday together hold a unique position as days of joy and triumph coming between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.

The theme of the raising of Lazarus dominates all Orthodox services on Lazarus Saturday, while at the same time looking forward to Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day. The scripture readings and hymns for Lazarus Saturday focus on the raising of Lazarus as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Christ and as a promise of the General Resurrection. A number of the hymns, written in the first or second person, symbolically relate the death, burial and shroud of Lazarus to one’s own sinful state. Many of the hymns with Resurrection themes in a normal Sunday service that are omitted on Palm Sunday are chanted today on Lazarus Saturday.

Many Orthodox people abstain from meat and dairy products on Lazarus Saturday, although wine and oil are allowed, and special spice breads called Lazarakia are made in Greece and eaten. In Greece, it is a custom on Lazarus Saturday to make elaborate crosses out of palm leaves or olive branches that are then used the next day, Palm Sunday.

The canon on the Resurrection of Lazarus by Saint Andrew of Crete, chanted at Vespers the night before Lazarus Saturday, is also a preparation for Holy Week:

We have completed the forty days
that bring profit to our soul.
Now we ask you in your love for us:
Grant us also to behold the Holy Week
of your suffering and death,
so that in it we may glorify your mighty acts
and your purpose for us,
too great for words.
May we sing with one accord:
O Lord, glory be to you.

During the Divine Liturgy, the baptismal hymn, “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Romans 6: 3) is sung in place of the Trisagion. This may indicate that this was at one time a day traditionally for baptisms.

The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca 1260-1318), Kimbell Art Museum

Reading the story:

This story is well-known because it once contained the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept (John 11: 35, AV).

Jesus loved Lazarus, who had died in Bethany. When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he finds Lazarus has been dead four days. Jesus comes to his tomb, and despite the objections of Martha, he has the stone rolled away, prays, and calls on Lazarus to come out. This Lazarus does, wrapped in his grave clothes.

The Raising of Lazarus illustrates the two natures of Christ: his humanity in weeping at the death of his friend and in asking: “Where have you laid him?” (John 11: 35); and his divinity in commanding Lazarus to come forth from the dead (John 11: 43).

Verse 1:

The name Lazarus means “God helps,” the Greek Λάζαρος (Lazaros) being derived from the Hebrew Eleazar, “God’s assistance,” or “God has helped.” So, already the name of the principal character in the story introduces us to expectations of God’s actions.

Verse 3:

Notice that when the news comes to Jesus, it is brought with no specific request to come or to act.

Verse 4:

Jesus replies: ‘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.’

His reply is enigmatic, but he is not saying that the life of Lazarus is not in danger, for he knows already that Lazarus has died (see verses 11, 14). Note the comparison between physical death, which is inescapable, and spiritual death, which comes by choice.

Verse 5:

Note the tenderness here that counters any harsh interpretation of the words in verse 4 – Jesus loves Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus.

Verse 6:

Jesus does not delay going to Bethany out of callous disregard for the plight of Mary and Martha. What he is going to do is not as a reaction, but on his own initiative. Jesus ought to be seen as proactive rather than reactive.

Verse 9:

Here again we have the contrast between light and dark, a Johannine theme we encountered in recent weeks in the lectionary readings, for example, about Nicodemus and the blind mean healed at the pool of Siloam.

Verse 11:

“Asleep” is a common term in the New Testament for death (see Matthew 9: 24; Mark 5: 39; Acts 7: 60).

Verse 14:

But just in case they think “asleep” means sleep, and is not a euphemism, then Jesus tells them plainly: “Lazarus is dead.”

Verse 15:

Once again we come across the Johannine theme relating seeing and believing.

Verse 16:

Contrast Thomas’s apparent faith at this point, with his refusal to believe until he sees for himself after the Resurrection.

Verse 20:

Here, as in Luke, Martha is the active sister, while Mary is the contemplative member of the household in Bethany (see Luke 10: 38-42).

Verse 22:

Martha has moved beyond personal interest in seeking for her brother; now she moves beyond even that wider but limited circle of want and need to accepting what God wills.

Verse 23:

Death is not the end. But I am reminded of how Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to say that there are things that are worse than death for a Christian … including the loss of values, commitment and faith.

Verse 25:

This the fifth of the “I AM” sayings in this Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11: 25).

Verse 27:

Martha addresses Jesus as “Lord.” But notice then how she uses three distinct titles in affirming her faith in Christ: Messiah, Son of God, and “the one coming into the world.”

Verse 28:

After that, the title “the Teacher” appears to be quite a mundane title for Martha to use. Yet this is also the title Mary Magdalene uses at the tomb on Easter morning (John 20: 16). So can we draw parallels between what is happening at this grave, and what we can expect two weeks later on Easter Day?

Verse 34:

Jesus asks: “Where have you laid him?” This is precisely the same phrase used by the women when they arrive at the empty tomb on Easter morning (John 20: 2), and when Mary approaches Jesus in the garden (John 20: 13).

Verse 35:

Do you think the four words here lose the literary impact on the King James Version; “Jesus wept”?

Of course, the word used for Jesus weeping is not the same word used to describe formal weeping at a Jewish funeral. It means to shed tears, and indicates that Jesus is not just formally acknowledging the death of his friend, but is sharing in the human emotions of grief and sorrow.

The Raising of Lazarus illustrates the two natures of Christ: first his humanity is revealed in his weeping at the death of his friend and in asking: “Where have you laid him?” (John 11: 35).

Verse 39:

Popular belief at the time accepted that the soul lingered near the body for three days. So on the fourth day Lazarus was truly dead, and all that remained in the grave was a corpse.

Verse 41:

“And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me’.”

The Greek conveys more of the prayerful action that is taking place here: ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἦρεν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἄνω καὶ εἶπεν, Πάτερ, εὐχαριστῶ σοι … (“And Jesus lifted his eyes up and said, Father, I give thanks to you …”). In other translations it says Jesus “lifted up his eyes.”

Lifting up his eyes is a prayerful action in itself, and that combined with his giving thanks to the Father has action and words that convey Eucharistic resonances.

Verse 43:

The Raising of Lazarus illustrates the two natures of Christ: here we find his divinity in his commanding Lazarus to come forth from the dead.

Verse 44:

In his death, Christ breaks through the barriers of time and space, bringing life those who are dead. Those who hear the voice of Christ live.

The other Lazarus

In the poem, The Love Song of J. Afred Prufrock, TS Eliot refers to Lazarus in these lines:

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”

But Eliot is referring to the other Lazarus in the Gospel stories: Lazarus who each day sat begging outside the gate of a rich man, his sores being licked by the dogs, while inside Dives, dressed in fine clothing, is dining sumptuously each day (Luke 16: 19-31).

Both men die, but Dives would like Lazarus to come back to life. But despite what Eliot says and Dives hopes, this Lazarus does not come back from the dead once he has been received into Abraham’s Bosom at the heavenly banquet. For his part, the rich man craves merely a drop of water from Lazarus’ finger to cool his tongue, for he is tormented by fire, and wants Lazarus to return and warn his wayward brothers.

This Lazarus is the only character in a New Testament parable with a name. The rich man has been named Dives by tradition, but in the telling of the story he has no name: in effect, he has lost his name, and with it his human identity.

Death comes to us all. We all end in the grave. No miracles, no wishing, no praying, can take away that inevitability. Dives learns – when it is too late – what it is to be human, and that we do not come back from the grave.

This Lazarus was rewarded, not because he was poor, but for his virtuous acceptance of poverty. The rich man was punished, not because he was rich, but for his persistent neglect of the opportunities his wealth gave him.

Christ in his life points us to what it is to be truly human. In the grave, he proves he is truly human. He has died. He is dead. Unlike Lazarus the beggar, he can bridge the gap between earth and heaven, even between hell and heaven. But like Lazarus of Bethany, he too is raised from death not by human power but by the power of God.

The grave of Lazarus

There is no further mention of Lazarus of Bethany in the Bible. So what happened to the tomb of Lazarus in Bethany? And what happened to Lazarus himself?

The first tomb of Lazarus at Bethany (al-Eizarariya) continues to be place of pilgrimage. According to ancient tradition, Lazarus was 30 years old when he was raised from the dead. But of course Lazarus had to die a second (and last) time. Orthodox tradition says Lazarus went to Cyprus, where he lived for another thirty years and became the first Bishop of Kition (Larnaka). Tradition also says that after he was raised from the dead, he never laughed again until the end of his life, except on one occasion when he saw someone stealing a clay vessel, smiled and said: “Clay stealing clay.”

When he –finally – died, it is said, Lazarus was buried in Larnaka. In 890 or 898, his relics were transferred to Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI “the Wise”, when the Emperor composed his stichera for Vespers, “Wishing to behold the tomb of Lazarus …” His body was later stolen by the Crusaders in 1204 and pirated away to France as one of the spoils of war. However, the location of his (second) grave in Kition has the inscription: “Lazarus the four days dead and friend of Christ.”

Come out, Lazar

Come out, Lazar, (Paul Spicer, the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge)

An interesting piece of music to play for reflecting on the story of the raising of Lazarus is by Paul Spicer. Come out, Lazar is the title track (7’24”) on a recording made two years ago of the shorter choral works of this English choral conductor by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, directed by Sarah MacDonald, with Claire Innes-Hopkins on the organ (Regent Records, 2009, total playing time: 63’59”).

Paul Spicer began his musical training as a chorister at New College, Oxford. He studied with Herbert Howells and Richard Popplewell (organ) at the Royal College of Music in London, winning the Walford Davies Organ Prize in his final year. He now conducts the Chamber Choirs at the Royal College of Music in London, and the Birmingham Conservatoire, and is Professor of Choral Conducting at both institutions.

I first came across his work in Lichfield, where he has lived in The Close since 1990, and he was Artistic Director of the Lichfield International Arts Festival for 11 years. His Easter Oratorio was commissioned for performance in Lichfield Cathedral in 2000, and the libretto was written by his close friend, the then Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, Tom Wright, to mark the 1300th anniversary of Lichfield Cathedral. The Independent described it as “almost operatic in its inherent drama” and as being “a major contribution to the choral society repertoire.” He remains a member of the Council of Lichfield Cathedral.

The anthem Come out, Lazar is the most substantial work on the 2009 recording by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College. It is a dramatic, and almost apocalyptic, setting for mediaeval poetry, in this case an anonymous 14th century English text. It was commissioned by Ralph Allwood in 1984 for a BBC Radio 3 broadcast by the Uppingham Choral Course.

Spicer says he has always loved mediaeval poetry, and found a natural appeal in the poem Come out, Lazar (Lazarus). “It had everything I wanted for this commission.”

The anthem is basically in an ABACA form, with the B and C sections being reflective. It takes every opportunity to use the words descriptively. The final triumphant section (“For with that word he won the field …”) builds up to a huge climax on the word “might,” and the final page keeps the excitement building to the end.

The words of this anonymous mediaeval poem are:

Come out, Lazar!
Come out, Lazaro, what so befall.
Then might not the fiend of hell
Longer make that soule to dwell.
So dreadful was that ilke cry
To that feloun, our enemy.
The kinges trumpet blew a blast;
Come out! it said, be not aghast.
With that voice the fiend gan quake,
As doth the leaf when windes wake.
Come out is now a wonder soun,
It hath o’er come that foul feloun
And all his careful [wretched] company.
For dread thereof they gunne cry;
Yet is come out a wonder song,
For it has broken the prison strong.
Fetters, chains, and bondes mo [besides]
That wroughten wretched soules woe.
That kinges voice so free
It maketh the devil and death to flee.
Say me now thou serpent sly,
Is not ‘Come out!’ an asper cry?
‘Come out’ is a word of battle,
For it gan helle soon [at once] t’assail.
Why stoppest thou not, fiend, thine ear?
That this word enter not there?
He that said that word of might,
Shop him felly to the fight. [Advanced valiantly to battle.]
For with that word he won the field
Withouten spear, withouten shield,
And brought them out of prison strong,
That were enholden there with wrong.
Tell now, tyrant, where is thy might?
‘Come out!’ hath felled it all with fight.

The final triumphant section (“For with that word he won the field …”) builds up to a huge climax on the word “might,” and the final page keeps the excitement building to the end.

Notes produced two years ago by the Chapel of Trinity College Cambridge for Choral Evensong on 12 May 2009 helpfully explain some of the more difficult or obscure vocabulary in this poem:

1 feloun: traitor
2 gan quake: quaked
3 wonder: wonderful
4 careful: wretched
5 gunne cry: cried
6 mo: besides
7 free: noble
8 asper: harsh
9 soon: at once
10 shop him felly to the fight: advanced valiantly to battle.

An icon of The Raising of Lazarus from the dead


Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer

God of hope,
in this eucharist we have tasted
the promise of your heavenly banquet
and the richness of eternal life.
May we who bear witness to the death of your Son,
also proclaim the glory of his resurrection,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in tutorial group with MTh students on 30 March 2011.