who stinketh? – a reflection on John 11:32-44

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Christology / Easter / Gospels / Lectionary / New Testament / Year B

The following is a reflection on John 11:32-44, the Gospel Lesson for All Saints B, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

There is also a Litany for All Saints Day on this site here.


The Abbey Ruins on the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne. Photo by Rick Morley.

While I don’t use the King James Version of the Bible often, I do happen to love its rendering of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus, after weeping and being emotionally moved, commands those around him to open Lazarus’ tomb.

There’s instant protest. Lazarus had been dead for a few days, and everyone knew that rolling that stone away wouldn’t be pretty.

Martha calls out: But Lord, he stinketh!

I love that.

Of course, John is the Gospel of Signs. There are seven signs, and the raising of Lazarus is that ultimate seventh sign, revealing Jesus’ identity as the Christ. But, as much as this sign is about Jesus, it’s also about us.

Because we are all Lazarus.

We are all dead and lifeless. We are all wrapped up corpses, bound in the grave clothes which the world lays on us. We are stiff and we have all begun to smell a little rank.

We stinketh.

Until – until! – Jesus calls us out of the tomb. Until he orders everything that binds us and holds us down, to be stripped off of us and tossed aside. Until he breathes his holy breath into us again and makes us a new creation.

The Body of Christ, the community of the baptized, and the Communion of Saints – we are all Lazarus. We stinketh, until Jesus calls us out, frees us, and gives us life. In fact this is what binds us together, the biologically alive church and the biologically dead church: we have all been called out of the tomb and unwrapped.

In this sense, the raising of Lazarus isn’t just a miracle that Jesus performed thousands of years ago in a land far, far away. It’s the work of Jesus today.

And, I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that Jesus still calls us out, because I still need it. I still stinketh. And some days I stinketh more than others.

I still find myself from time to time bound up and wound up; by the expectations of others, by my own insecurities, by my sin.

But, the promise of the story of Lazarus is that, like Lazarus, Jesus loves us. He weeps for us. He is deeply moved by us. And he brings life to our death, freedom to our bondage, and a shining light to our every darkness.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella


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