Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily: Get Up Lazarus!


5 Lent A – March 21, 2010 – “Get Up Lazarus!”

Ezekiel 37: 12-14, Psalm 130:1-8, Romans 8:8-11, John 11:1-45

Note: Where there is an asterisk * the assembly was asked to shout out, “Get Up Lazarus!” … and they did.

Burial grounds are mysterious places. Some are elegant architectural masterpieces. Others are marked simply with sticks and stones. There are mass graves for victims of war, genocide or natural disasters. For some a grave marks the end of life. For others its a threshold between earth and heaven; between hard realties and the wonder of life beyond space and time.

There is a tomb in each of the three readings this morning. The valley of dry bones in the first reading was a battlefield. The prophet Ezekiel imagined the dead there would come back to life. Those old bones symbolized Israel in exile and its eventual restoration to its homeland. The Psalm is a cry for mercy and deliverance from being buried in captivity. [1]

There is a tomb in the third biblical text. [Again, this gospel is known as the book of signs. It contains seven miracles intended to stir up faith in Jesus as the chosen one. Scholar John Pilch reminds us this gospel was not written by a coroner  (like the one in CSI Miami) and so we need not be concerned about the details.] The author of the gospel was writing for members of his community (about 50 years after Jesus). They wondered what happened whenever one of their own died. Was there life after death as promised?

The purpose of this gospel is less about the raising of Lazarus from the dead and more about believing in Jesus Christ as the resurrection and life. The very idea of resurrection after death requires faith. Lazarus was resuscitated back to human life. He had to go to work the next day. The story was written to show that Jesus had power over death. The Spirit in Jesus that poured into Lazarus was the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. * Ultimate resurrection is not just a resuscitation of a dead body back to human life. Rather it is the eventual, total transformation of life. [2]

This transforming Spirit moves us to dig out of the graveyards of life. During those times when we feel tired, * helpless, * alone, * cheated * our bones will not dry up. Why? Because there is a Spirit-filled purpose for each of our lives.

In the gospel story, Mary and Martha represents all of us who wonder about the absence of God in times of trouble, sickness and death. Where is God when money runs out, * when water and electricity are shut off, * when hospital bills cannot be paid, * when insurance companies turn us away? * Who restores new life us? Where do we get our strength, our energy?

These are the times when the faith community finds purpose. Like Jesus we are the first to cry when someone is mistreated or sick or falls into bad luck. Like Mary and Martha we profess belief in the risen Christ — we protest war and broken immigration laws; * we feed thousands every year from our food pantry; * we write letters to our political leaders charging them to act responsibly; * we care for our elderly and homebound; * we nurture our youths so they grow in faith and good works. Ah, get up Lazarus!

All of these efforts require the strength of the community, a vigor that grows out of our baptismal commitment. The third tomb of sorts is in the second reading — a baptismal font. A person is immersed in a font of living water to symbolize identification with the life of Christ including suffering and death. Rising up and out of that font is to rise up with Christ. It is a experience that leads to a life of growth and transformation. We’re not finished yet.

For Mr. Cain Marion baptism at the Easter Vigil will not merely be a rite of passage into Christianity. Rather it will be about the recognition of the Spirit within Cain that prompted his spiritual pilgrimage. Cain has been growing in his response to the Spirit already within him. Although we all have that Spirit because God created us, some of us have not yet fully tapped into it. The rituals we experience during Cain’s journey are intended to charge us with a new purpose in our lives. As with our liturgical actions, spectatorship in the daily life of the Church is not the norm.

The next time we go by a cemetery let us imagine that all the graves are open and that the dead are risen. It’s a haunting idea, isn’t it? Then let us think what might happen to us after death. Will we rise again? Until then, imagine the restorations that are possible in everyday life because the Spirit is already within us. Those resuscitations are the ones that give us new life. Jesus said, *!


1 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Revised Edition. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1984) 38, 49-51

2 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995) 61-63.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

2 thoughts on “Homily: Get Up Lazarus!

  1. Dick! How cool to have a blog! I really appreciate your thoughts and convictions in this homily. Thank you for helping us integrate the hard parts of life with our spirit-filled purpose. I can imagine that the community’s response of Get up, Lazarus! was dramatic and effective. I was saying it myself – with enthusiasm – as I read! Thank you.


  2. We are wintering on the West Coast of Florida where the religious climate is racist and sexist. Refer to the Herald Tribune article today on the washing of women’s feet on Holy Thursday!

    I needed to read your homily today as I knew you would address issues in the world (especially church)that have been in the news and make a great analogy to the suffering of Jesus. Thank you for your enlightened interpretations.


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