Raising Lazarus – 22 March 2021
Here in two visual scenes are stories from St John’s Gospel. On the left Jesus touches the eyes of the blind man, healing him so that he can see. On the right Jesus raises Lazarus.
The action here is in the bodily movements, not in the faces.
The blind man kneels and raises a hand to welcome Jesus’s touch. Jesus steps forward, placing a hand on the blind man’s shoulder, and two fingers on his eyes. The shape of the right hand, two fingers extended, three towards the palm, is that used by a priest in the act of blessing. This ‘two and three’ also signifies the three persons of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, so that hand tells us a great deal about Jesus.
In the second scene Jesus has come to the tomb of Lazarus. Mary and Martha are lifting the lid from the sarcophagus to reveal the dead body of their brother Lazarus wrapped in grave cloths. In the story Jesus raises Lazarus with his voice, calling his name and commanding him to come forth. Here Jesus is not speaking but holds in his hand a thin staff. This becomes a cross as it touches Lazarus. The cross identifies Jesus as the one who will be crucified, the defeater of death. Meanwhile, the body of the man who was dead is beginning to rise up to life again.
In the centre is another figure, probably St John. He holds a green gospel book. He is a witness to the miracles, and reminds us a response is required. In the gospel story, Martha responds to Jesus’ presence at the tomb saying: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
This fresco (c1129-1134) is in the Cloisters Collection of the Met Museum, New York. It came from the church of San Baudelio in Castille, Spain.
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.”
Then resurrection words pierced the air,
Into the tomb unto Lazarus’s ears.
And they there deduced; “The dead cannot hear? ”
“Lazarus, come forth! ” Jesus ordered.
And so came the corpse forward:
Forgiven and whole, unbroken by Satan,
And they present witnessed, the dead now living;
And saw the glory of God in Him whom was given.
Dennis Spilchuck, from The Raising of Lazarus