In the liturgical calendar, today, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, marks the beginning of Passiontide, when we shift our attention to Christ’s suffering and death. In the congregations where I have served before, we would mark this day by covering all the crosses in the church with purple veils. This isn’t your practice here, probably because of the number of yards of purple cloth it would take to cover that cross suspended from the ceiling over the Altar.
But it remains fitting to grapple with this Gospel text, the story of the raising of Lazarus, on this day. The Book of Isaiah describes death as “the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.” Even if there are no cloth veils in the sanctuary, the events of the story we have just heard are shrouded by death’s power.
Lazarus, is of course, a man destined to die from the beginning of the story, and he will rest in the tomb for four days before Jesus arrives. His sisters are shattered with grief, and they are surrounded by a crowd of mourning friends, who seem to be trying, without much success to offer comfort. Even the name of their village, Bethany, gives the measure of things—it means “the house of affliction”