‘Come and see’

photograph (c) Katherine Brown

Jesus ‘said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”’

John 11:34 [from John 11:1-53 NRSVUE]

Sitting in the chapel for our mid-week Evensong. Listening to the lector read John 11. Hearing the familiar story of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, all of whom ‘Jesus loved.’ Lazarus is sick, and the sisters send word, yet Jesus dallies two more days (11:1-6), in which time Lazarus dies (11:13-15). Only then does Jesus go, to be greeted by Martha and by Mary. Each sister in turn asserts that had Jesus arrived more quickly, their brother would be alive (11:21, 32). ‘Yet even now …’ Martha adds (11:22).

‘Where have you laid him?’ Jesus asks; they say, ‘Lord, come and see’ (11:34).

Come and see.

The phrase read aloud catches me unexpected. In the midst of so many familiar phrases, this one leaps out suddenly, surprisingly, clear as a bell.

‘Come and see…’

It’s the invitation Jesus makes at the beginning of John. Two would-be disciples ask Jesus where he is staying. ‘Come and see,’ Jesus replies (1:38-39). ‘Come and see,’ Philip invites skeptical Nathaniel (1:45-46). ‘I saw you,’ Jesus tells Nathaniel, and hearing this, Nathaniel sees who Jesus is; ‘You will see greater things than these.…’ Jesus says (1:47-51).

Come and see. This is the phrasing, the invitation, made at the start of Jesus’ public ministry, before even the ‘first of his signs, at Cana in Galilee’ (2:11). Come and see, Jesus invites followers. Come and see, one follower invites the next. ‘You will see,’ Jesus promises.

And now, here, the phrase is repeated but the invitation is inverted. ‘Lord, come and see,’ Jesus is directed to Lazarus’s tomb, to death and its expected stench.

Death permeates this passage. Jesus has been threatened with death (11:8); disciple Thomas expects death (11:16); Lazarus has experienced death — surely stinks, his sister says, with the smell of four days’ decay (11:39). Death is the postscript to the passage. If Lazarus’s exit from the tomb rings triumphant, the next notes sound ominous: the raising of Lazarus is the sign that precipitates the plot to ‘put [Jesus] to death’ (11:53).

Yet there is this at the start: Jesus’ statement that Lazarus’s illness will not lead to death but to God’s glory, to the glorification of God’s son (11:4). Death permeates this passage but does not define it. Because the word that comes after death is not just life but glory, not just Lazarus to his sisters restored but all God’s dispersed children gathered into one (11:51-52).

Sitting in the chapel. Listening to the lector read. Hearing the familiar story and being caught for the first time by invitation in it.

‘Lord, come and see,’ we summon God to the sites of our suffering.

God responds to our call to come and to see by coming and by seeing. By weeping at death, even at the necessity of God’s own passion — for Jesus’ proclamation of glory is anticipation of the cross. (‘What should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour’ [John 12:23-28]).

‘Lord, come and see,’ we summon God to the sites of our suffering as if God is not already acquainted with the tomb, as if our suffering is not also God’s own.

God comes and sees and weeps for death and works new life. ‘I have come. I have seen,’ God says to us.

‘Now, you, too, come. And you shall see greater things than this.’

2 thoughts on “‘Come and see’

  1. Thanks for inviting me, as reader, to come and see this newness you’ve experienced in the scripture. There are so many beautiful words woven together in this reflection. Thank you.


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