What a captivating story! This Sunday we will reflect on Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days. This story appears only in the Gospel of John and is one of the climactic moments in the book. It is likely the story that begins Jesus’ move to the cross and has been called the “resurrection that will lead to death.” We know that the death this miracle leads to will lead us right back to resurrection. In the Lectionary, this story comes later in Lent, but we reflect on it earlier so that we can celebrate the wonderful things that Jesus has done as we head into the time during which we will focus on the cross and who Jesus is for us. This is an opportunity to celebrate and take note of the things that only God can do in Jesus Christ the one who calls himself the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-6).
On Sunday morning, we will be singing a lot of alleluias and it will be our last time for quite a while. Today is a day for fun and feasting, to celebrate the work that Jesus has done in his ministry. Next week we will begin our Lenten practices. Share with your students about the season of Lent, a time when the church remembers that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem where he would be crucified. Lent is a serious time and we save all of our praises–our alleluias–for the day when we hear that Jesus Christ our Lord is risen (indeed!). So today we want to get them all of our praises out and give brief attention to one of Jesus most exciting works. These events–Jesus raising Lazarus, and God raising Jesus–will form bookends for Lent and this story helps us keep resurrection in mind as we are trudging through the solemness of Lent. After you have shared a brief introduction to Lent, ask your students what they know about the Lenten season? What kinds of things do they do at home to inhabit the season of Lent?
This is also be a good time to talk about a discipline your class may want to adopt for Lent. One of our classes will spend time learning the books of the Old or New Testament, another class may collect offering for a ministry. Brainstorm ideas for what you might do together to inhabit this season.
Hear the Word
This story is quite long in our Bibles. If your class is older, they may enjoy reading the story out loud together from John 11:20-44. Alternatively, you may want to tell this story yourself. “The Raising of Lazarus” can also be found in The Miracles of Jesus by Tomie DePaola (this is my favorite version). I will put several other versions of the story around the room for you to choose from.
Respond to the Word
(1.) Jesus is the resurrection and the life: Wonder together about what Jesus means when he says “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Talk to your students about what they think Jesus means by this statement and what they believe about Jesus because of it.
(2.) Wrap up a Lazarus: Use sheets from the supply closet (if you open the door, they are the shelf directly behind the door). Divide your class into two teams each with a pile of sheets. Let each team race to wrap Lazarus. Once Lazarus is all wrapped up, they can race to unwrap Lazarus and let him out of the tomb. An alternative version of this game is like musical chairs. Sing the “Lazarus is Alive” song to the tune of Jingle Bells (Lazarus, Lazarus, he was Jesus’ friend. He got sick and died one day, Jesus raised him up again! found here). They can wrap/unwrap anytime you are singing, but everyone must pause when you are not signing.
(3.) Lazarus Red Light, Green Light: Play a version of red light, green light in which one person in your class plays Jesus. Other students should start by laying on the ground (red light–Lazarus is in the grave). Jesus can say “Lazarus, Come out!” (for yellow),kids should walk slowly as though they are tied up. Jesus can also say “Unbind him and let him go” (green) kids can walk fast or run toward Jesus. The first person to tag Jesus gets to be the next Jesus. If it is nice outside, feel free to play this game on the playground, on the lawn near the house, or on the concrete outside of the 3+4 year old and k+1st grade classrooms.
(4.) Lazarus Puppets: Use Popsicle sticks to make Lazarus puppets. Paint (or color) faces on the sticks and then wrap in bands of cloth, tissue paper, or other materials from the supply closet (feel free to tear small strips of cloth from the larger pieces). You can find a more elaborate version here. Explain that this is what happened to people’s bodies after they died. No one expected that Jesus might call Lazarus from outside the tomb and that he would walk out still covered in bands of cloth! You can talk about how this was something sad (even Jesus cries over Lazarus), but that the power of Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Once your have made your Lazarus puppets, get into groups of two and act out the story. Wonder together about people’s experience of seeing someone walk out of the grave, the response of religious and political leaders, and what people might have thought about Jesus.
(5.) Lazarus in Art: The story of Lazarus is very popular and a lot of artists have worked with it. Use the two images above and others if you wish (an icon, here, and a modernist piece) and reflect on the pieces with the students in your class. It might be particularly fruitful to wonder together what it would have been like to be a member of the crowd who witnessed Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (in our story, Jesus even says that he prays to the Father out loud so that the crowds might believe).
This week we will close with a special snack (a feast) and prayer.
During your feast, each of your classes will be given two letters for our alleluia banner. Please color these two pages together. I will string them up and hang them for next week when we will bury the alleluias together for Lent.