Whatever happened to Lazarus?

One of the worst bumps on the head I ever got was going down the steps into the tomb of Lazarus about 25 years ago. We were on our second September pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and were anxious to visit Bethany, where Lazarus lived with his sisters Martha and Mary. The modern village of al-Eizariya is believed to mark the spot, and there we find a church dedicated to the family, while the adjacent Tomb itself is on ground owned by Moslems. As I went down the 20 or so steps, at the bottom I banged my head on the low roof. Ouch!

So what happened to Lazarus after his raising by Jesus? He is mentioned a few times later in the Gospels, but for the time beyond that we have to rely on tradition (or legends). The Eastern tradition tells how he went with St Paul to Cyprus, becoming first bishop of present-day Larnaka. From there, as Islam advanced westwards, his relics were taken to Constantinople (Istanbul) and later to Marseille in Provence.

At this point this tradition joins another Western one, which has Lazarus and his sisters, along with the other Marys from the Crucifixion plus a maid, put out to sea by hostile Jews. They drift across the Mediterranean until they land in Provence. The beautiful town of Les-Saintes-Maries on the edge of the Camargue lies where the group traditionally landed. From here the group scatters across southern France, except for the other Marys, who stayed and gave their name to the town. Our September pilgrims also visited some of these sites in 1993 and again in 2011.

One of the strangest parts of the Eastern legends of Lazarus tells how Lazarus never smiled during the thirty years after his resurrection. He had been traumatized, we would say today, by the sight of unredeemed souls he had seen during his four-day stay in the underworld/Hades. Well I suppose being dead would have quite an effect on you, wouldn’t it? The only exception was, when he saw someone stealing a pot, he smilingly said: “the clay steals the clay.” But I’m sure Lazarus was raised again, this time not a resuscitation like in today’s Gospel, but a rising to eternal life, through Easter, which we will all celebrate in two weeks’ time.

Fr Matthew