Easter Saturday is an odd day. Every year I try to journey through the events of Holy Week faithfully, to wait at the foot of the cross as Jesus is crucified. Every year I fail in one way or another. Every year I remember that this is part of the point: I am human, and my inability to remain faithful to God is why Christ died for me.
Good Friday is hard, and rightly so. But Easter Saturday – well, for me it always brings an odd sense of being in a sort of spiritual no-man’s land. It’s a day when despair and hope are somehow combining in me.
For some reason this Lent I’ve kept coming back to the account of the raising of Lazarus. And in his depiction of it, John Reilly’s “Raising of Lazarus” has captured something of the dynamic I experience today.
The story is one of human mortality and grief. Lazarus dies. Mary, Martha and Jesus all go through the darkness of bereavement – Christ’s love and empathy are simply stated: “Jesus wept”.
Yet it is also a moment in Jesus’ ministry when we glimpse both who he really is and who we are in light of him. For Jesus declares that he, and he alone, has power over life and death. He needs only say the word for the grave to be overcome. Lazarus – like us – is mortal and dies, but is given new life. In a sense, he prefigures both Christ’s resurrection and our destiny of being raised to new life with Christ. Lazarus shows us something about Christ, but also something about us…
All of this takes time, though, and Reilly’s painting captures a sense of God’s dynamic working through eternity, from creation to the last days. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are all depicted both before and after his raising, and the contemporary Church leans towards them, caught up in the drama and its eternal importance, and moving in towards the Sun, source of all being.
The encounter between Jesus and Lazarus captures both Christ suffering with us, and his bringing transformation. In it, mourning turns to dancing. So too in the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son, God makes a way to change our sorrow into joy, and the death of our sin into new life.
The encounter between Jesus and Lazarus captures Chris’s humanity and his divinity, his vulnerability and his power – what was, and is, and is to come.
As we wait, having journeyed to the cross and to the tomb, may we have hope that Easter Day will dawn. May we find the tomb empty. May our sorrow turn to joy, and may we know new life with Christ.
Image: John Reilly, ‘The Raising of Lazarus’ from the Methodist Modern Art Collection, © TMCP, used with permission.