Each of these studies can be as long or as short as you desire them to be. There will be plenty of links to videos, art and articles for further study that are completely optional. You may decide to come back and look at some these later as well. Also if you could take time to post a comment when you are finished I would appreciate that. It allows me to know how many people are using this study as well as to hear what insights you are taking away from it. "
All artwork in this series is the work of John August Swanson (1938-). You can click on the artwork to the left and read more of what the artist has to say about his own work. This piece is "Take Away the Stone" ©2005 by John Swanson August. Serigraph 30" by 20".
You may wish to begin your study by setting this time apart from the rest of today. You could do this with silence, with prayer, or perhaps with music. If you would like to use music, one of the following could be used:
- "What Wondrous Love is This (5:04)," a beloved hymn performed by Chelsea Moon with the Franz Brothers.
- "By Raising Lazarus (1:53)," two traditional chants used on Lazarus Saturday in the Orthodox Church (this version is in English)
- "The Raising of Lazarus (12:32)," an instrumental work by Joseph D Carney that premiered April 11, 2008.
Scripture shapes and forms God's people in many ways. One of those ways has been the public reading of the Bible in the worship life of a congregation. In liturgical churches, like The Episcopal Church, we read through the scriptures in an intentional way that focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus. Relatively early in Christianity, we developed a yearly rhythm of Church Seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. All the scriptures chosen for this Lenten Study are read during a particular time of year called Holy Week.
We begin this study with the Raising of Lazarus. In the Episcopal Church this story is heard twice in our three-year cycle--on the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A) and All Saints Day (Year B). If you happened to listen to the Orthodox chants above, you heard that the raising of Lazarus "revealed the universal resurrection" of all the faithful and is therefore became an important story to connect with "all the saints." Our brief focus will be on Lazarus Saturday which is celebrated in the Orthodox Church the Saturday before Palm Sunday.
In the Gospel of John, it is the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus that leads to his arrest and ultimately to his death. In fact, in John's Gospel, the order of events to begin Holy week are: (1) the raising of Lazarus, (2) the plot to kill Jesus, (3) Lazarus' sister Mary anointing Jesus for burial, and (4) the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Although most Episcopal Churches do not have a daily Eucharist, those that do hear, like Orthodox Christians, the story of Lazarus being raised on Saturday and then celebrate Palm Sunday the next day.
If you wish to learn more about this liturgical tradition, you can read "Saturday of the Holy and Righteous Friend of Christ, Lazarus" on the Greek Orthodox Church in America website. You may view "Celebrating Lazarus Saturday in Bethany" which is a seven minute YouTube video showing brief snippets of worship at various locations in Bethany associated with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. A final resource is "Lazarus Tomb," a nine minute YouTube video of a tour of Lazarus' tomb led by an Orthodox priest.
Question to Ponder: Our liturgical tradition puts a strong focus on the cross and tomb of Jesus. Are there particular ways you think about Jesus and God that might be influenced by this? Imagine for a moment you grew up in the Orthodox tradition and every Holy Week began with the story of Lazarus. How might that shape your understanding of Jesus and his cross and tomb?
Over the course of this Lenten study, you will be introduced to various ways of encountering scripture. This first way is inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola and his spiritual exercises. Our text today is John 11:1-44. You can interact with the text in any way that you desire. The following are just three options you may choose from:
- Open a bible to chapter 11 of John. Any bible will do. It might be a study bible, a family bible, or one that you have around the house.
- Read John 11:1-44 on this device. The Bible Gateway site has many translations including the Common English Bible, New Revised Standard, King James, and The Message (see the complete list). The translation you choose is not important for this exercise however this may be a time to try a translation you are less familiar with.
- Listen to the the story of Lazarus. If you are doing this study with others right now, decide which of you will read. If it is just you or even if others are with you, you may want to use an online recording. Bible Gateway has audio recordings of John 11 available in the New International Version, King James and the New American Standard version. You can listen to the whole recording of chapter 11 or stop after Lazarus is unbound.
- Imagine the setting as vividly as you can the first time you read/hear John 11. Imagine Jesus and his disciples traveling to Bethany. What is that journey and the conversations like? When do you notice Mary and Martha? What do they look like? Who else is here that perhaps isn't mentioned in the text? What are they doing?
- The second time you read/listen to John 11, put yourself in the story. Are you one of the people in the story (a disciple, Mary, Martha, Jesus, Lazarus, a woman from Bethany consoling the sisters) or someone not mentioned but who is there? What are you doing? What are you feeling? You may find yourself in a part of the story that isn't in the text. Go with it. It might be about something significant for you to consider.
- Now talk to a character in the story. Talk to him/her about what they are doing and what is happening around you. Do you have anything you wish to ask? Is there anything the character wishes to say to you?
- Spend some time with Jesus. What is he saying to you? What are you feeling?
- Close this time with the Lord's Prayer.
We will now spend some time with "Take Away the Stone" by John August Swanson shown above (click here to see a larger version). You have spent some time reading/listening to the text and using your imagination to interact with the narrative, now it is time to engage your vision.
- Pay attention to the use of color. Does anything strike you? How does this image compare to the ones you had during in interaction with the scripture? Why do you think the artist has Jesus depicted in a bright yellow robe?
- This painting is full of people. Spend some time looking at several of them and particularly at their actions and expressions. What do you think they are feeling? How do they relate to the focus of the artwork--Jesus and Lazarus?
- Can you tell what time of day it is in the painting? Why might the artist choose this time of day? What time of day were you imagining when you read/heard the story?
- John August Swanson says, "We are constantly being called to come out of the tomb. These are words that have come into my heart as I have worked on and lived with this piece. We, like Lazarus and those who love him, are often overwhelmed by the many ways death is present in the midst of our lives...We are constantly being called to come out of the tomb. It is the voice of one who loves us that calls us forth and this is what can give us the strength and courage to come forth and live again." How do you understand us to be like Lazarus?
I hope you have found this first study of Holy Week to be a fruitful part of your Lenten journey. I hope you will leave some comments for me and others so that we may in some small way journey with you. In closing, I offer you this hymn that the Orthodox Church uses on Lazarus Saturday to use as a prayer.
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your Passion, You confirmed the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with palms of victory, We cry out to You, O Vanquisher of Death; Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord! (Apolytikion: First Tone for The Orthodox Christian Celebration of The Saturday of Lazarus)