Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily for April 10, 2011 – The Lazarus Syndrome


5 Lent A – April 10, 2011 – The Lazarus Syndrome

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

Complete biblical texts

Several years ago a 45 year-old woman in Colombia had no vital signs and was pronounced dead. Later, in the morgue a worker noticed the woman was moving and sent her back to the hospital. The woman lived on. [1]

Although only several cases have been documented since the early 1980s, medical experts believe this phenomenon happens more often than not. The medical profession calls it the spontaneous return of circulation or the “Lazarus Syndrome.” [2]

During these final weeks of the Lenten season we heard stories about the Samaritan woman and a man born blind who took life changing risks in their encounters with the messiah. Today we have the story of Jesus, Lazarus and his sisters.

This parable is about relationships and, in particular, how two women with “bold and robust faith” [3] took the initiative to tell Jesus about their brother. Martha and Mary were anxious. They knew about the miracles Jesus had done for others and thought, “Hey, we’re close friends, maybe he could do one for us.” However, scholars add that the purpose of this Lazarus story is to present a bigger picture. It is less about the raising of the dead and more about the search for life. The gospel is not about a “freak accident of nature but [a] demonstration of God’s power for life.” [4]

John Pilch writes that Jesus is indeed “the resurrection and the life” (v. 24). However, resurrection here does not mean the restoration of life to a corpse, it entails rather a transformation of life. [5] Martha and Mary struggled with death and were searching for new possibilities in their lives.

This gospel was written toward the end of the first century to convince people that Jesus Christ was the messiah. We who already believe need an occasional jolt to resuscitate our bodies and minds, our spiritual selves. We ask today how does this gospel have something to do with our relationships in the kin-dom of God?

Our country is a good place to start. Recent news may have focussed on federal budget cuts and job losses. What is more alarming are the emerging cultural attitudes that appear to celebrate personal agendas rather than those of the common good. Whose welfare are we really concerned about?

Is the institutional church in need of resuscitation? Changing the words in our liturgy may do little to unite Catholics on issues that matter most — dwindling congregations, drifting teenage members, injustices in our own religion and the lack of creative leaders willing to take risks to refresh age old traditions.

The psalm this morning calls for corporate redemption. We cannot blame those at the top, whether it be church or state officials, without making an effort to resuscitate our own lives. Lent is the time to make such adjustments.

To admit the need for personal and communal transformation is a challenge. Three good examples are in our midst. Kelly, Ann, and Rob are experiencing significant changes in their adult lives. Their development began with answering a call from an illusive, ineffable God. It continues with a bold and risky effort to shake free from old foundations, to break the bonds of death’s stronghold, to help one another trade in dried up bones (Ezekiel 3) for new ones.

The Lazarus Syndrome is more common than we think. We all are in need of resuscitation at one time or another. Let’s just hope someone is nearby.

1 Salazar, Hernando. “¿Colombiana experimentó Síndrome de Lázaro?” (in Spanish). BBC Online. Retrieved 26 December 2010.


3 Newsom, Carol and  Ringe, Sharon. The Women’s Bible Commentary (London: Westminster John Knox) 1992, (297-299)

4 Ibid.

5 Pilch, John J. 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 for April 10, 2011 – The Lazarus Syndrome

  1. We are all called back to life from death. In daily life we have many deaths – of our dreams mostly and hopes. And to underscore that, refer to the crisis our nation and our world are in.

    Having said that, crisis exists always but so then does hope for new life.

    We are called back to life persistently by this God who loves us, but then we have to respond. Now there’s the rub – what a risk, what a challenge.

    But what a reward!

    Speaking of being called back to life, I am reminded that today is the 56th anniversary of the death of Teilhard de Chardin, on what was Easter Sunday that year. The synthesis of life, science and who and what we are called to be, from death into life, was so evident in his work. What a reminder for us all to be alive and to be who we are.


  2. Richard,

    Thank you for breaking open the idea of resurrection for us, for taking us beyond the narrow idea of a body resurrected. Transformation is so much more challenging. This is a helpful entre to Easter which can be, I believe, the transformation that we can effect that really will bring new life to our world.


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