The day before Palm Sunday is known in the church calendar as Lazarus Saturday, the day Christians commemorate Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, as recorded in the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John.
There are many notable things about this miracle. First, though he was not one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, Lazarus was a beloved friend of Jesus. When Lazarus fell ill his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
Now what do you say and do when you find out that a beloved friend is ill? Most of us start praying and hurry to be with them. Jesus did not. He said, “This illness is for the glory of God,” then proceeded to stay where he was for two more days.
When he finally got to Lazarus’ house, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Both Martha and Mary met him with the words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They were puzzled that their close friend who had helped so many other sick people would take so long to come and help his friend.
Jesus proceeded to pledge that Lazarus would rise again, not at the last day, but now, by his almighty power. He spoke words that still resonate with believers today: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
Then, before he backed up his words with his almighty actions, Jesus wept. Seeing his loved ones weeping, Jesus was deeply moved and wept.
The moment death comes to our bodies they begin to decay, a process that produces a distinct stench. So when Jesus arrived at Lazarus’ tomb and asked for the stone to be rolled away from it, he was told that since Lazarus had been dead for four days there would be a foul odor.
Undeterred, Jesus assured the people he knew what he was doing, said a short prayer to his heavenly Father, and then cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
Jesus’ almighty power over death is such that if he had not said, “Lazarus, come out” and had only said, “Come out,” all those who had ever died in all of human history would have come out of their graves. This will, in fact, happen on the last day when Jesus returns for Judgment Day. Yes, the same one who wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus will someday issue a loud command and all the dead will be raised.
But in this instance, Jesus limited himself to raise Lazarus only and the dead man came out of the tomb whole and healthy, still wearing his burial clothes.
What happens next is also significant. Word of this miracle spread so quickly that by the next day, Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a great crowd greeted him as a king, waving palm branches and crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Jesus enemies, who were already plotting to kill him, also made plans to kill Lazarus since on account of him many more people believed in Jesus.
Lazarus Saturday is the only time in the church year that the resurrection of the dead is celebrated on a day other than Sunday, the day that Jesus himself rose from the dead. Through faith in our risen Lord we know that when we are called up from our graves we will rise to life eternal in heaven. Until that day comes God gives us strength to say that whatever happens, whether good or bad, it is all for the glory of God.