The Second Tomb

Right down the street from where I’m staying these days–in Bethany–is the traditional tomb of Lazarus. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, you remember, and stories of that famous incident and other events from Bethany figure large in the New Testament.

I went over to the Franciscan bookstore near the Joppa Gate this morning and got a small book on Bethany which goes into the history of this tomb and what archeologists have found as they dig and dig. Actually, they have stopped digging–for the present.

Surely, like the tomb of Jesus, the tomb of Lazarus would be remembered. Egeria, the 4th century nun, who was to all these places, says that there were so many people at Lazarus’ tomb  when she was there that they packed the whole church and all the fields around. For Christian pilgrims Lazarus played a vital part in the story of Jesus.

Right now, the Franciscans, the Greek Orthodox and the Muslims (who venerate Lazarus, by the way) are all around his tomb together. It looks like the same war over turf that goes on at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Raising Lazarus from the dead was the final sign God gave before raising Jesus from the dead, John’s gospel says. It’s a miracle telling us we shall share in his resurrection.

Political reasons weren’t the only thing that brought Jesus to his death, it was his claim to be the way, the truth and life. The miracle brought people from Jerusalem to see a man who came from the dead and the one who raised him. The authorities reckoned that Lazarus would have to be taken care of too.

The believers were here in Bethany; not many in the temple, according to John’s gospel. Like Martha, carrying her pots and pans, they believed he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, who  brings life to the whole world. That’s why Bethany, and Lazarus, are important.

I spent today at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, watching the crowds pile into the dark church and sat for some time in “Adam’s Cave” next to Calvary on a bench looking at the exposed rock where the crucifixion took place.  A stuffy guide came in with two Englishmen and said, “Look at that fellow over there, he’s sitting on the tomb of Baldwin 1, one of the first Crusader rulers of Jerusalem and doesn’t even know it.” I went back and looked up Jerome Murphy O’Connor who says the Greeks removed that tomb in 1809.

So much for experts.

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