In the Logan Temple, there is a painting of Jesus calling Lazarus from his tomb. It’s one of my favorite ones in the temple right now.
And with today being Easter, the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead feels so relevant.
There are two things in this painting that strike me every time I look at it:
The Crowd of People
The miracle of Lazarus coming back from the dead was one that had various witnesses. In this painting, these onlookers fascinate me with their expressions of shock and fear.
I guess I’m used to thinking of this story as a great miracle – which it is – but I rarely think about how freaky it might be to see someone who you know was dead walking around alive and well again.
It isn’t just the expressions of the crowd that are interesting though. The crowd is all standing back in the shadows, like they aren’t sure they want to join in this miraculous experience or not.
While I was looking at this painting the other day, I realized that sometimes I’m a lot like that crowd. Not always, but sometimes.
I can see that Christ is my Savior and I want to follow His teachings. But, in spite of this, I might stand back to the sidelines, waiting to see if it really is worth joining in or if maybe following Jesus is a little too scary. Or requires too much change.
Sometimes I just want things to be easy and take little or no effort on my part.
But that isn’t how the gospel works.
In fact, it’s an attitude that lines up with what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in 2014:
Sadly enough… it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds. Talk about man creating God in his own image!Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Cost – and Blessings – of Discipleship,” April 2014
Basically, I find when I feel this way that what I want is for God to be like me, instead of me becoming more like God.
Which is pretty scary to think about.
“The natural man is an enemy to God” and fear and uncertainty and laziness all feed the natural man.
Luckily, if we find ourselves in this rut, we DON’T have to stay there.
Lazarus and Jesus Christ
Lazarus, in the painting, is wearing all white and just stepping out of the tomb. He’s looking up and the sun embraces him as he comes out toward his Master and his sisters.
In his white clothes and surrounded by sunlight, Lazarus makes a complete opposite to the crowd of people watching nearby. The expression of hope and joy drives that difference home.
The symbolism expressed in this moment is spectacular, especially in relation to Easter.
Lazarus has been lying in a tomb, dead, for days by the time Jesus comes to him. He’s been in the dark, alone and trapped. He could do nothing for himself no matter how hard he tried.
It seems like a pretty hopeless situation.
We all hit points in our lives where we feel like this. Whether it’s from sin or sorrow, or from uncontrollable aspects of our fallen mortal lives, or something else entirely, we find ourselves in circumstances that we cannot free ourselves from.
But when Jesus comes, a way is made for Lazarus to find life and freedom again.
And when we seek Christ and invite Him into our lives, that same chance is offered to us.
We know from the scriptures that Lazarus was no stranger to Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus was quite close to Lazarus and his family. Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, are just as well known in the New Testament as Lazarus is.
So Lazarus wasn’t some random person who got lucky enough for Christ to come and raise him from the dead. Jesus was already a solid part of his life, and there was great love between them.
It isn’t surprising, in this context, that Jesus would heal Lazarus and give him a second chance at his life. Lazarus exhibited the faith needed before he ever even fell ill.
Lazarus was physically raised and given a second chance, but our second chances right now come spiritually.
We may feel more like Alma (the younger) when he told his son:
18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.Alma 36:18-21
We find our second chances through our Savior and His offer of repentance. Nothing else can give us the freedom and future that He can.
In the painting, Jesus stands straight and powerful, with His arm stretched out toward Lazarus. Mary and Martha cling to Him, clearly comforted by His presence and power.
Jesus, too, stands in light, almost like the light comes from Him. Everything about Him shows that He is the Son of God with power over death.
The symbolism of this story and the painting show how Christ’s interactions with Lazarus are similar to His interactions with us.
Jesus emanates light that Lazarus enters into; we see Him as the Light of the World. Jesus holds out His hand to raise Lazarus; He holds that same hand – now scarred by nails – out to us. Jesus uses His power to physically raise Lazarus from the dead; His power raises us back to life – spiritually and physically.
Wherever we are, whatever we’ve done, He has the power to raise us higher. Jesus doesn’t abandon us, no matter how alone and lost and helpless we feel.
Easter is the time when we celebrate rebirth and renewal. We remember Jesus Christ, His death, and His resurrection. His sacrifice and suffering two thousand years ago frees us now.
New Years is usually the time that we talk about second chances and making changes. But I think that Easter may be a better time for that.
Easter marks the anniversary of Jesus’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, His death, and His resurrection. Because of this, it is literally the day that made change and freedom and resurrection possible for us.
Without that sacrifice, we’d never have a chance.
Today, Easter Sunday, take a minute and consider how you can accept the gift of sacrifice that Jesus Christ gave each of us. What can you do to love Him and come to Him?
Forget New Years, and set an Easter goal now that will help you come closer to your Savior, Jesus Christ.
And have a happy, joyful Easter Sunday!