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Mission: Impossible - Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday

I can hardly believe it, but Great Lent is almost over.

The 40-day Fast is nearing its end, and we have been through it all with Christ. 

We have climbed up the tree to get a glimpse of Him. We have been brought before Him by faithful friends and have had our sins forgiven. We have been thrown to the ground by evil spirits and have been lifted up by His grace. We have asked Him to give us whatever we want. 

And now, we stand on the verge of Holy Week, and we are about to welcome Him into our hearts, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Jn. 12:13)

And welcome Him we should!

After all, our celebration of Palm Sunday is the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, as well as the joyful entry of fish into our stomachs for this brief interim between Great Lent and Holy Week. 

(That’s right: Great Lent doesn’t end with the Resurrection, it ends with the Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday.  We prepare for our preparation.)

So yes, Christ is triumphant. But exactly what is the triumph?

Just the day before Palm Sunday, we celebrate Lazarus Saturday, in which Jesus journeys to the town of Bethany because His friend Lazarus has fallen sick and died. 

Allow me to set the scene: a few days before traveling to Bethany, Jesus receives news that Lazarus is sick and that his sisters, Martha and Mary, are asking Christ to come heal Lazarus. When He hears this, however, He deliberately chooses to stay where He is for another TWO DAYS. Like a boss.

In fact, Jesus waits until He knows Lazarus is dead. And then He goes to Bethany.

When word gets to the sisters that Christ has finally arrived in Bethany, they each, in turn, say the same thing to Him: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn. 11:21, 32). “If you had come just a little sooner,” they say. “Didn’t You hear? We told you he was sick, and now he’s dead.”

“Where were You when we needed you?”

Oh, how often my words to the Lord sound like this. 

The sisters offer this lament, their prayer sparked by the nothingness they are experiencing in the loss of their brother (on the one hand) and the faith they have in the One who could have saved Him (on the other hand).

And so they wonder: “Where were You?”

By the time they offer this lament to Christ, however, their brother has been dead four days, long enough for his body to begin to stink. 

He’s buried.

Gone.

But Christ offers them hope – “Your brother will rise again” (Jn. 11:23)

“Yeah, yeah,” Martha says. “I know he will live again in the resurrection on the last day” (Jn. 11:24).

But Christ isn’t interested in what Martha knows. He doesn’t want to hear the information she has learned in Sunday school. No, He invites her to trust in Him.  

I am the Resurrection and the Life,” He tells her (Jn. 11:25).

For Christ, belief in the resurrection is not doctrine regarding a future event, but rather, belief in the Resurrection is something to be located squarely in His Person. Jesus invites Martha and Mary not to hope for some future event, but rather to hope in Him, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the One who is coming into the world, He who is the Resurrection of the dead

So do we trust in Him, with the totality of our personhood? Or do we trust in what our brains “know” He can do?

The sisters expected that Jesus would arrive to cure their sick brother. After all, they had seen Him do this with others – certainly He could do it with their brother, who was Jesus’s friend! But Christ deliberately waits until this, the healing of the sick, is beyond the realm of possibility. Indeed, He waits until He is put in a place where He will be forced to do the impossible: raise the dead.

How often do we place our expectations on Christ? How often do we stand in prayer asking God why He didn’t act to do this or that for us? And how often does God subsequently burst through any limits we arbitrarily impose on Him? Our God is a God who raises the dead, for “with God nothing will be impossible” (Lk. 1:37). 

But this movement toward faith is hard.

It’s hard because sometimes God deliberately waits to act. Indeed, He waits until all that can be accomplished by human strength is no longer possible, and then – sometimes only then – will He act. Lazarus didn’t need to be sick or dead to manifest God’s ultimate power over death; Lazarus needed to be really dead – like, really, really dead. This work of Christ’s needed to be the clear and decisive work of God so that none could argue that God had indeed sent Christ (Jn. 11:42).

Sometimes God intentionally withholds His action in order to bring us to that point where we simply cry out to Him, pleading that He do something – anything. And what’s more: it will often be something we could never have anticipated. 

He wants to move us from what we know (or think we know) to genuine faith in Him

Christ’s triumph over death in Bethany paves the way for His entrance into Jerusalem, where the crowd welcomes Him gladly into their midst! Jesus has just done something spectacular, something that no human hand could have done. He has raised a man from the dead, restoring him to those who had counted him as lost forever! What cause is there to prevent fervent festivity and flaring fanfares? 

Let us, with the crowd, welcome Him with joy into our hearts!

But let us also approach this day with trepidation and great solemnity. For within only a matter of days, this crowd will turn their backs on Him. What were previously the shouts of a joyful crowd will quickly turn to the cries of a murderous mob. The mouths that proclaim “Blessed is He” will shortly be shouting “Crucify Him!”

And unfortunately, we are that crowd.

So where will we stand next week when they take Him away to be killed? Will we run away in fear and despair? 

Or will we stand beside Him and die with Him, trusting that He is a God who does the impossible and raises the dead?

-Christian Gonzalez 

Christian is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, and occasional CrossFitter. He works full-time as a child and adolescent therapist, and in his off-time likes to devote his mental energy to the Church and the Church's ministry in and to the world. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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For more:

For more on the Gospel reading for Palm Sunday, please see our annotations of the passage at our annotated Gospel project, ExeGenius.

For more on what happens after we die, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For more on struggling with doubt, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

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