Martha was upset; she was often cross, but this was different. “Why did he not come?” If she asked it once, she asked it a hundred times. “He could have saved Lazarus, and I sent him plenty of notice, but it is only now that he is coming, now, when it is too late!” Her tears upset me. She was always the capable one, always the one who coped. Although she sometimes expressed irritation at me for staying with the men and listening to Jesus, she, too loved him; she just didn’t see there were different ways of expressing different sorts of love. There was, it seemed, only one way to express grief, and even my stoical sister partook of it. She was too busy grieving to ask why I was not absolutely hysterical; after all, if she was in tears, I should have been in floods. Yes, I was sad, unutterably so, but there was something here that I did not understand; I knew Jesus could have saved Lazarus by coming sooner, so why had he come now? I didn’t, then, know the answer, but I knew there was a question.
Martha dashed off when she heard Jesus was near. Ever practical, she wanted to warn him that since it was now four days since Lazarus had died, there would be no use going near the body; we had both seen how quickly animal carcasses decayed in the heat, and although the cave would be cooler, four days was enough for the corruption to be far advanced, and the spices would avail nothing. It was so like her to care – and so like her not to think he would have known all of that. Much as I wanted to see him, I stayed where I was, pondering the mystery. I was still doing that when a neighbour looked through the doorway telling me that Martha said Jesus wanted to see me.
I ran out into the heat, with the neighbours and friends who had gathered to comfort us following. As I approached him an ineffable sadness came over me. I threw myself to the ground and clasped his feet, telling him that I knew that if he had been here my brother would not have died. I heard a great sigh, and looking up I saw tears in his eyes; those eyes which captivated us all, which seemed like the deep places of the sea – full of tears for us. He raised me, asking where Lazarus had been laid. We took him to the cave. He was silent until he got there, when he ordered the men to roll away the stone.
Martha uttered her warning about the effects of the corruption, and Jesus, as so often, answered a question no one had asked: “Have I not told you that if you will believe you will see the glory of God?” At that point he fell silent and composed himself before, as he sometimes did, praying to the ‘Abba’, the Father, thanking him for hearing his prayer, and saying that what he had asked for was for the sake of us all; John, who was there, recorded the words and put them in his book. I should like to see John again, but Patmos is a long way from this place, and I don’t expect I shall see him until we are raised again in glory; but I loved him for his love of Jesus. There was a man who understood in the way I did; dear Simon Peter, there was one whose heart was always to the fore; he died a martyr in Rome the saints there told us. That was always his end, for he was, after the Lord rose, fearless in his witness, and the miracle was he survived so long; I miss him, but feel him close at times.
What happened next is still told whenever the saints meet, but few who tell the story were there, and I am the last of the family; even the elders fall silent when I speak on it. It was wondrous, and it was, I saw at once, the answer to the mystery of why Jesus had not come. Had he come there would simply have been another miracle of healing, but this was different. Lazarus had been in the grave four days, and Jesus’ cry to him to come forth astonished most there. There was a moment’s silence into which the words fell like a drop of rainwater into a deep well. Then it happened. From the darkness, with the grave-clothes in place, came forth our brother. “Unbind him”, said Jesus, and Martha did so. Lazarus blinked as the cloth around his face was taken away. It was him, oh yes, it was him. Many who saw that believed.
But there was a dark side to it. Not all who saw and believed followed Jesus. Word got back to the authorities, it was but a short time later that they sent soldiers to seize him and to crucify him. Only then did I fully understand what Jesus had meant when he had said that the death of Lazarus would lead to the glorification of the Son of Man. But that is another story for another time, and mother Mary needs my attention now. She is old and frail, but the Spirit is strong in her. She will soon go to join her son, as Lazarus and Martha did long ago. Then there will be just me – and John; and after that, there will be none who walked with him and saw him raise Lazarus from the dead.