Lent 5: The Lazarus Blessing

Image: Rise Up, Lazarus (Death Has No Power Here)
© Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Lent 5, Year A: John 11.1-45

He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
—John 11.43

You can imagine that this text, which has long been one of my favorites, has new layers for me in the wake of Gary’s death. Lazarus compels my attention not only as I think about my beloved and carry my questions about life, death, and resurrection in connection with his dying, but also in connection with my living.

When we suffer an agonizing loss, something of us goes into the grave. As we wrestle with our grief, we will be visited by questions about what new life waits for us. We will find ourselves faced with a choice: will we gather the graveclothes more tightly around ourselves, or will we respond to the voice of Christ, who stands at the threshold and calls us to come out?

The choosing is not to be rushed. We need to give the weeping and wailing their due, the tears and the anger their place. It is only in reckoning with death—including the death that has taken place within us—that we can begin to discern what new life lies beyond the tomb of our heart.

In this Lenten week, I want to share a blessing I wrote several years ago as I reflected on the story of Lazarus. This was a pivotal blessing for me. It opened my eyes to what a blessing can do—how it can meet us where we feel most lifeless and call us to enter our lives anew.

At the time, I wrote about being struck that Jesus does not go into the tomb to pull Lazarus out. He does not enter his realm to haul him to this side of living. Lazarus has to choose whether he will loose himself from the hold of the grave: its hold on him, his hold on it. Only when Lazarus takes a deep and deciding breath, rises, returns back across the boundary between the living and the dead: only then does Jesus say to the crowd, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Not until Lazarus makes his choice does the unwinding of the shroud begin, and the graveclothes fall away.

That, too, is part of what a blessing can do. It can stir in us the power to rise up and choose life anew. It can help us begin to imagine what that new life might be like. A blessing can help us breathe into the life that waits for us here, within this life.

On this day, as we keep company with Lazarus and hear the voice of Christ calling to us, what will we choose? What might we need to let go of, to loose ourselves from, so that we can move with freedom into the life to which Christ calls us?

Lazarus Blessing

The secret
of this blessing
is that it is written
on the back
of what binds you.

To read
this blessing,
you must take hold
of the end
of what
confines you,
must begin to tug
at the edge
of what wraps
you round.

It may take long
and long
for its length
to fall away,
for the words
of this blessing
to unwind
in folds
about your feet.

By then
you will no longer
need them.

By then this blessing
will have pressed itself
into your waking flesh,
will have passed
into your bones,
will have traveled
every vein

until it comes to rest
inside the chambers
of your heart
that beats to
the rhythm
of benediction

and the cadence
of release.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

A bonus blessing: For a song that will bless your ears and your soul, click the player below to hear Gary’s wondrous song “Rise Up,” which was inspired by this story. It’s from Gary’s CD House of Prayer. (For my email subscribers: if you don’t see the player below, click here to go to The Painted Prayerbook, where you can view it in this post.)

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Rise Up, Lazarus (Death Has No Power Here),” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “©Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

7 Responses to “Lent 5: The Lazarus Blessing”

  1. Lynda Says:

    Jan, thank you for this reflection and blessing! I needed to read this today and will reread it again and again in your marvellous book. God brings gifts such as this when we need them most. Blessings as you continue to be a blessing to so many.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Thanks so much, Lynda! Grateful for your words and sending many blessings to you on this Lenten day!

  2. Esther Rodriguez Says:

    Thank you

  3. Elina Says:

    Thank you! I appreciated your insight “He does not enter his realm to haul him to this side of living. Lazarus has to choose whether he will loose himself from the hold of the grave.” Yes, Lazarus [and us] has some responsibility too when Jesus calls, “Come out!”

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Thank you, Elina! Grateful for your words. I’m sending many blessings for you in these Lenten days.

  4. Diane Woodrow Says:

    Reminds me of the words of Joshua to the Israelites – and Moses’ too –
    “what do you choose? Life or death, blessing or curse.”
    And really did like that it is ok for it to take time. Having walked through a mess of untimely deaths myself to be reminded both of the time needed and the chose of what to do is so needed.
    Thank you X

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