John 11:1-45, Lent 5, On Death, Lazarus & Nick Cave


Take Up Beer for Lent, 2011, Lent 5, John 11:1-53

Stories from our World

I love Nick Cave’s edgy, intuitive hunches on biblical stories and Dig Lazarus Dig is a beaut one to ‘read’ alongside the ancient text….Nick and John both do ‘death’ so well!

Well, New York City, man
San Francisco, L.A., I don’t know
But Larry grew increasing neurotic and obscene
I mean, he, he never asked to be raised up from the tomb
I mean, no one ever actually asked him to forsake his dreams

He ended up like so many of ’em do
Back in the streets of New York City
In a soup queue, a dope fiend, a slave
Then prison, then the mad house
Then the grave, oh, poor Larry

But what do we really know of the dead
And who actually cares?
Well, I don’t know what it is
But there’s definitely something going on upstairs

How has the reality of death been part of our collective consciousness this past week?  How is it narrated in our dominant culture?
  • Libya
  • Japan
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • This takes us inevitably to people we know and love…
Ancient Story

The following notes are drawn largely from Wes Howard Brook’s work on John ‘Becoming Children of God’.

Previous Context

Ch.10 Good Shepherd as critique of Leadership, Chanukah Temple Debates, Flees death threats by withdrawal beyond Galilee

Structure As with Samaritan Woman Ch.4 & Man Born Blind Ch.9

  • Disciples misunderstand and disappear
  • Jesus encounters another and challenges their faith
  • Disciples/Observers respond positively or negatively.

In this passage we see all the various attitudes human beings bring to their experience of the presence of death.  The passage presents us with the seductions of false securities in the face of the threat of death and our darkest fears and internal doubts about following in the way of Jesus.

Responses to Death:

1. Help prepare the one about to die for the journey (v.2 Mary…see Ch13)
2. Avoid risks that may arouse opposition (Disciples v.7-8)
3. Denial (Disciples v.12)
4. Faithful commitment or is it sarcastic fatalism or is it bravery??? (Thomas v.16)
5. Death as business.  A chance to ‘make a living’ (Judean Mourners v.31-32)
6. Hope of avoidance / prevention (Sisters v.21,32, Judeans 37)
7. Jesus weeps (v.33-35 untranslatable = horse snorting?) sympathy or anger at lack of faith? Note John’s Judeans are usually wrong! (v.36)
8. Trust God’s Presence (v.42)
9. Come out/ Unbind …(v.44)
10. Death Mongering (Utilitarian Conspiracy v.49)

How does news reports about the recent crack down on dissidents in China mirror the secrecy, tension and the threat of danger and death in the ebb and flow of this text?

Note the geographical movement of characters in the text:  How does each characters ‘starting point’ prepare them to encounter death?

Personal Stories

What might ‘unbinding Lazarus and setting him free’ look like in your world?

Which ‘attitudes to death’ presented in the story are most prominent in your personal experience, the dominant culture, the church?

Consider what it would feel like to live without the fear of death.  Share stories of people of faith, both historic and from your own experience, who have lived in this way. ( eg. Joan of Arc, MKL, Romero, )

Brainstorm a list of consequences for particpation in ‘unauthorised’ healing or life-giving activity in our world. Tell a story of an alternative healing experience.

What attitude do I bring to the death of those closest to me?  How would you respond to Jesus’ response to Martha about being the “Resurrection and the Life”?

What ‘death threats’ or fears keep me from travelling to contested places in order to ‘unbind and set free’ those who are dying?  Tell a story of a time you had to cross Galilee and enter the dangerous ‘Judeas’ in order bring healing?



2 Replies to “John 11:1-45, Lent 5, On Death, Lazarus & Nick Cave”

  1. The song reminds me that we need to create a world where people would want to be resurrected…

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