Forming Faith Blog

Unwrapping Lazarus Together (John 11)

Jesus tells the community to unbind Lazarus together. The work of grief and liberation takes all of us working as one body. Let’s get to work!

Jesus Brings Life

John’s Gospel continues to focus on Jesus’ life-bringing mission. Earlier, Jesus offers literal resources needed for life (water, bread, healing), as well as the promise of full lives of purpose and meaning—both in this moment and in the world to come. Again, we are faced with Jesus’ double-faceted good news in this week’s text. In John Henson’s translation of this Gospel, Good as New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures, he uses the phrase “life to the full” (rather than “eternal life”) to capture the broader meaning of Jesus’ life-focused message in John. What does “life to the full” look like for you? And which character best exemplifies that phrase in today’s story?

Is Lazarus at the Center of this Story?

Feminist Bible scholars have questioned whether the main focus of this story is really Lazarus or his sisters, Mary and Martha. The story moves toward Lazarus’ raising back to life, but the spotlight is on Jesus and his conversation with Martha and Mary.[1] Accordingly, we can read this story from both Mary and Martha’s perspectives and Lazarus’. The Godly Play question, “I wonder where you are in the story or what part of the story is about you?” might be a helpful invitation to engage your participants with the many different characters present and their varying experiences of these events in Jesus’ ministry. 

Grief and Loss

This story is also an invitation to acknowledge grief and loss. Jesus shows his sadness in response to Lazarus’ death by crying (verse 35), but there are many different forms of grief and many different ways that we process and show our emotions. How do you show your emotions while at church? How has your congregation grieved communally over the past two years? John’s depiction of Jesus reminds us that a well-rounded spiritual life doesn’t mean avoiding uncomfortable emotions, but rather being fully present to the breadth of our feelings.

Practicing Good Friday and Easter

Your participants may also notice the similarities between Lazarus’ death and raising and Jesus’ death and resurrection later in John. Some Christian traditions have strongly resisted these comparisons, but I think reading this story alongside Jesus’ own death and resurrection reminds us that, in God’s reign, resurrection is a way of life that keeps bringing forth hope. How do we repeat/reenact/relive these same cycles of Good Friday and Easter today?

Unbind Lazarus Together

My congregation will be reenacting this story together by unbinding Lazarus each week of Lent.[2] We cut and dyed some donated bed sheets using Lenten colors to make his grave clothes and then “bound” pieces of purple and blue cloth around various pieces of liturgical furniture in our sanctuary, such as the pulpit, communion table, lectern, font. Each Sunday in Lent, we are remembering that Jesus tells the community to unbind Lazarus together: “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go’” (verse 44).

Accordingly, we remember that the work of new life takes all of us helping one another. Each week, our younger participants and families untie a few pieces of cloth and improv a new way to use that fabric in the worship space, such as decorating the communion table in a new way, wearing the cloth themselves, or hanging it on a door in the sanctuary. Together, we are moving from death to new life each Sunday of Lent.

I hope that you’ll also find ways to live into our communal calling of unbinding, coming out, and claiming the life that Jesus continues to offer.



Rev. Billy Kluttz serves as Associate Pastor at Govans Presbyterian Church (USA) in Baltimore, Maryland where he focuses on children and family ministries, community engagement, and communications. He is also the co-host of the TLDR Bible Show, a humorous Bible summary and discussion podcast, and a Doctor of Ministry candidate at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “The World to Come” from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd, NL) curriculum which can be used with many ages in many contexts!

[1] Gail R. O’Day “John” in Women’s Bible Commentary (1998).

[2] I am grateful to my friend the Rev. Ashley Goff of Arlington Presbyterian Church in Arlington, Virginia for this idea.

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