Jesus 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.”John 11:43-44
I had the great privilege and blessing of visiting the tomb of Lazarus three years ago, when I was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with my daughter. Because our assigned gospel reading for this coming Sunday is this story of the raising of Lazarus, I have been thinking again of my visit there.
The Tomb of Lazarus is not easy to find. It is in Bethany, now known as Al-Eizariya, which is Arabic for “Place of Lazarus.” This city is only a few miles from Jerusalem, as the crow flies. But because it is in Palestine, on the other side of a security wall blocking the way, it is quite difficult to get to, and challenging to find. We were driving there from Jericho, traveling a similar route to what Jesus would have walked. We couldn’t use Google Maps since GPS does not work in Palestine, so we had a bit of a struggle even finding the city of Al-Eizariya. But we did eventually find our way there. And what we discovered was a Palestinian city that was clearly struggling economically, in part because was off the beaten path of most Holy Land tourists. There were no buses there, or gift shops, or churches expecting visitors. There were not even any signs to the Tomb of Lazarus. We parked our rental car, got out, and began walking through the city.
We soon found a church, but its doors were locked. My daughter spotted someone through a keyhole and knocked on the door.
A member of the church community opened the door, and we learned from him that this church was built on the traditional site where Martha, Lazarus’ grieving sister, went out to meet Jesus on the road.
We paused for a prayer at the stone marking this site, and then asked about the Tomb of Lazarus. Further up the road, we were told. We continued walking up the road until we finally spotted it – the Tomb of Lazarus.
There was a small gift shop across the street, but no one around. When we walked up to the entrance to the tomb, a local man came out from the gift shop, approached us, and told us that it would cost us $2 each to enter the tomb. I happened to have four American dollars with me, so I gave them to him. Whether this was a legitimate fee to enter the tomb or not didn’t matter to me at that point. I was happy to part with my $4, and eager to enter this tomb.
The Tomb of Lazarus is the site of one of the greatest miracles that Jesus performed, the raising of Lazarus to life, and I was amazed to be given this opportunity – to descend into the very tomb where Jesus’ dear friend lay for four days before being raised to life. What an incredible experience it was to enter that holy place.
We descended down the steps, the only ones there. We arrived at the entrance to the traditional site of the tomb, which is marked with a sign that reads:
Death is followed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?1 Corinthians 15/54 + 55
And also this quote, whose origin I have yet to identify:
The glory of God shall be seen by those who put their faith in Jesus in times of greatest distress and hopelessness, they are certain that He is greater than any distress, even greater than death itself.
We spent a few quiet moments in the tomb itself, before making our way back out.
My daughter left the tomb first, and I had a chance to pause, in this holy place, to ponder this great miracle. As I have shared previously, my visit to the Tomb of Lazarus happened to be on my birthday, and our visit there came at the end of a most remarkable day. Down in that tomb, on the day of my birth, I thought about all that i had experienced that day, which began in the river where Jesus was baptized, and ended in this tomb from which Lazarus was raised. How could I not think of the miraculous gift of my existence, and of my baptism into Christ, and of his promised gift of eternal life? Leaving that tomb, I knew, would be the beginning of my new life. Every day is the beginning of a new life, of course. Every moment. But some moments serve to remind us of this, and this holy tomb was one of those for me, as much as any other place I visited in the Holy Land. I walked up the stairs to the light, filled with gratitude.
One day, we will all be invited out of our tombs and into the light of everlasting life. We will hear Jesus himself call our name, and we will receive the gift that he died to give us, the gift of eternal life. But until that glorious day, each and every day offers us an opportunity to hear his voice again, and to leave whatever tombs we might find ourselves in. To be unbound, and released, to step into the light of his love, and to be free. Thank you, Lord, for this amazing gift.