Lazarus vs. Joseph of Arimathea

Today in Lent Madness action it’s a Biblical Blowout as Lazarus squares off against Joseph of Arimathea. Actually, we’re calling this one the Tomb Raider Rumble. So deal with it.

Yesterday, Andrew the Fisherman hooked Polycarp 72% to 28% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen where he’ll face Hyacinth.

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Lazarus of Bethany is familiar to us from the gospels – he appears in the Gospel of John as the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany – a beloved friend of Jesus who falls gravely ill and then dies towards the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Jesus, having fled Judea because of conflict with the local leadership, receives this news, and heads back to Bethany to console his grieving family. When Mary and Martha run to meet him, they remonstrate with him – Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And it is in response to this cry of the heart that Jesus declares, I am the resurrection and the life. They who believe in me will not die.

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, amazing all in attendance (especially Martha, who correctly, if overly-practically, points out that because he had been dead four days, there would be a particular smell.) From there, tradition guides us. The Eastern Orthodox, who call Lazarus “The Four-Days Dead,” tell that he then flees from Judea, because of local plots to take his life. He heads then to Cyprus, to the town of Kition. Here he meets up with Barnabas and Paul, who make him the first bishop of Kition, and he serves well for over 30 years. They also contend that the Blessed Virgin Mary wove his special bishop robe for him herself, as a mark of respect.

Attesting to this legend, in 890 a tomb was found in the region with the inscription “Lazarus, friend of Christ.” The remains were disinterred and removed to Constantinople, the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

There is yet an alternate story, told by the French. In this tradition, following the resurrection of Christ, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were put adrift from the Judean coast in a boat without sails or oars, finally landing on the coast of southern France. They split up, going in different directions to preach the gospel. Lazarus goes to Marseilles and becomes bishop there. For this reason, the congregation at Autun claims to have his corporal remains, but the cathedral at Marseilles still claims to have his head.

Whichever tradition, Lazarus remains a testimony to the power of Christ over death, and the enduring power of the resurrection.

Collect for Lazarus
Generous God, whose Son Jesus Christ enjoyed the friendship and hospitality of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany: Open our hearts to love you, our ears to hear you, and our hands to welcome and serve you in others, through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (GCW 2015)

Megan Castellan

Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea’s role in the death of Jesus is recorded in all four gospels; beyond that, we know nothing about him. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Joseph was from Arimathea, wealthy, and a disciple of Jesus. He asked Pilate for Jesus’s body, and Pilate had people give the body to Joseph. Joseph wrapped Jesus’s body in clean linen and put it in a new tomb that he had carved into a rock. He rolled a large stone in front of it and left Mary Magdalene and Mary watching the tomb.

In Mark’s gospel, we learn that Joseph of Arimathea was a council member. He wasn’t just a member; he was respected, which could explain how Joseph would have access to Pilate and why Pilate would grant his request. We also learn that Joseph was waiting for the kingdom of God, indicating his knowledge of Jesus’s teachings. Joseph went boldly to Pilate to request Jesus’s body, showing that while he was a respected member of the council, he was still taking a risk making this request. Mark tells us that when Joseph asked for Jesus’s body, Pilate had to check and see if Jesus was dead. We learn that Joseph took the body down from the cross, wrapped it in linen, and took it to the tomb. The rest of Mark’s gospel mirrors Matthew’s account. We don’t always get more information from Mark than from Matthew.

Luke leads with words about Joseph’s character by stating he was good and righteous and that although he was a council member, he disagreed with what they were doing. We learn that Arimathea is a Jewish town, and as in Mark, Luke tells us that Joseph was waiting for the kingdom of God. Luke clarifies that the tomb Joseph prepared was a new tomb where no other dead person had been laid. Luke does not name the women who followed Joseph on the day of Preparation, but they viewed and perhaps oversaw how Joseph laid Jesus’s body. Luke says that they returned to prepare spices and ointments, and observed the sabbath.

The gospel of John gets right to the heart of Joseph of Arimathea’s role as a secret disciple. John also says that after Pilate let Joseph take Jesus’s body, Nicodemus came with Joseph and brought one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. They prepared Jesus’s body according to the burial customs of the Jews. John says that the garden where Jesus was crucified also had a new tomb, and since it was the day of Preparation and time was of the essence, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus’s body there. Joseph of Arimathea’s brave and difficult actions are worthy of commemoration by the church each year on August 1.

Collect for Joseph of Arimathea

Merciful God, whose servant Joseph of Arimathea with reverence and godly fear prepared the body of our Lord and Savior for burial and laid it in his own tomb: Grant to us, your faithful people, grace and courage to love and serve Jesus with sincere devotion all the days of our life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (LFF 2022)

Miriam Willard McKenney


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92 comments on “Lazarus vs. Joseph of Arimathea”

  1. Though a Pharisee, I can’t consent
    To this murder of man innocent.
    Though it may cost me dear
    I shall not yield to fear:
    He’ll be cared for — for that’s my intent.

  2. The method to my choosing (i.e., madness): the legend of Joseph of Arimathea visiting England. And I like saying Arimathea!

    1. I love the legend that Joseph of Ari ether was Mary’s older brother so Jesus uncle. He was a trader with the people os southwestern Britain and arranged for his nephew to spend time there as a teenager. He received the Holy Chaaice which caught the blood of Christ at the crucifixion and took it to Britain where it was buried at the tor on the hill at Glastonbury and where he was buried. Hence the Arthurian legends.
      At least I think that’s how it goes.

      1. I think that is how it goes, hence why he gets my vote, I quite like the Arthurian legends!

  3. The relationship Jesus had with the family in Bethany has always fascinated me. I want so much to know more about Martha, Mary and Lazarus. I choose Lazarus because I am one of those crazy Episcopalians who actually believes in the resurrection of the dead. In a real sense, Lazarus represents the fully human experience we all shall have on the day of Resurrection, with Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life.

    1. I'm with you all the way, Richard. Just one of those craazy Episcopalians who believes in the resurection and life after death. Pssst! I've also always been fascinates by Jesus' relationship with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. If we finish in the minority, we won't be alone!

        1. I’m in the camp with Richard and Mary Lou and others, voted for Lazarus with the added “reason” that the Bethany Sibs’ feast day is my birthday!

    2. Of course I believe it. I attest to it everytime I recite the creed. Which i also fully believe. If we dont believe what we say we do we might as well just be the Kiwanis club.

      1. Hi Linda, your profile picture of the Tower makes me think you could be a Longhorn in Austin like me. Hook ‘em!

    3. My method of discernment here was to consider that Joseph of Arimathea gave special service to Jesus’ body. Jesus gave special service to Lazarus’ body and soul. Both done in love, but Jesus’ love was greater. That Jesus would choose Lazarus for this act of amazing love turns me towards Lazarus, too.

  4. Lazarus not only fed and welcomed Jesus into his home, but his hospitality gave our Lord a format to spread His kingdom and the gospel. Lazarus shared Christ's death and resurrection experience and gave witness to the power of Christ and His kingdom. Tradition bears witness to Lazarus then spreading the good news and expanding the love and knowledge of Jesus to others.

  5. Megan Castilian always writes convincingly as a celebrity blogger, but my heart is with Joseph of Aroma the a and his connection with Great Britain.

  6. Hooray!! The system finally allowed me to vote - the first day this Lent! Lesson learned, “Try, try, and try again”

  7. Okay , bet I made a mistake on email address, since comment isn't showing up anyway. Autocorrect/AI word suggestion can be annoying. What I basically said was that although Megan Castellan (spelled right this time) always writes convincingly, my heart is with Joseph of Arimathea and his connection with Great Britain.

  8. The Resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection of Lazarus, do not get preached nearly enough in our Christian churches. The word "resurrection" literally means "raise up," or "up raise," thus "uprising." Preached much more often in Central and South America. See John Dominic Crossan's book on East-West iconography "Resurrecting Easter."

  9. Another challenging choice…. Lazarus is raised from the dead and continued to spread the good word.

    Joseph of Armathea buried our Lord and Savior.

    It was just an eenie, meenie, miney mo for me!

    1. I agree. Although I ended up voting with the majority, I found it a much closer choice than the voting suggests.

  10. RE: voting
    1.)Macrina the Younger is the patron saint of robots.
    2.)Wikipedia warns us not to confuse her with Melania the Younger.
    3.)If Melania is not-the-patron saint for a robot, she may also be the patron saint of not-a-robot.
    4.)Lent Madness fans having trouble voting may wish to appeal to Melania for assistance.

  11. I thought I was going to vote for Joseph, but the stories about Lazarus are just too compelling. He has my vote today.

    1. Exactly my reasoning!
      Also, I read a fictional account of Joseph by Alexandra Ripley, "A Love Divine". It talks of his trip to England to establish a church and preach the Gospel. The legend is that he founded Glastonbury Abbey.

  12. Joseph wasn't just a believer, he was a committed, active follower of Jesus. He was a local fatcat and risked disapprobation from The Establishment by claiming the body of someone who had been executed as a criminal. He probably lost or compromised some of his social, commercial, and political connections because of his commitment to Jesus. A brave and holy man.

    1. I've been inclined to vote for Lazarus because the comments indicate he's far behind, and I'd like to make the vote a little closer. You may have just changed my mind!

  13. Joseph’s bravery in caring for Jesus’ body brings me to tears as I think of Navalny’s mother asking for her son’s remains. Who will be her Joseph?

    1. Your comment about the body of Alexis Navalny brought many tears to my eyes, as I grieve for the sons of God in Gaza, Ukraine, and around the world…isn’t this what Lent Madness is all about? Connecting ourselves to those amazing saints of history so that we SEE the present in a broader lens. ❤️

  14. Not just because my dad's name was Joseph. But this guy, as well as Jesus's stepdad the Joseph (husband of Mary), and Joseph, the son of Jacob (the dream interpreter. All the of them are 'good Joe's." That's enough for this round. (I don't even think Lazarus said "thank you" to Jesus. So there!)

    1. Actually, I think Lazarus did. That's the meaning of "There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him." (John 12:2) Surely not just a "dinner," but a banquet, in honor of Jesus and to thank him.

  15. We know so little about both of these men. Joseph seems, to me, to have done more. Joseph of Arimathea it is.

  16. I know Joseph will win this round but I so love the siblings, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The stories of what happened to them later may or may not have some truth, but what an interesting family. Also, Rev. Megan Castellan became our new Canon up here in the Central NY Episcopal Diocese last year!

  17. I can’t vote because the “street lights & bicycle” squares will not move out of the way. Finally on fifth try was able to vote.

  18. This is such a difficult choice! Each of these men faced the radical challenges of being a disciple, of allowing their hearts and minds and lives to be subject to Jesus’s call.
    Today I will give a nod, and my vote, to Joseph. In honor of Lazarus, I commend the book by James Martin, SJ: “Come Forth, The Promise of Jesus’s Greatest Miracle”

  19. I had to vote for Joseph of Arimathea for his bravery in tending to Jesus's body and seeing to his being laid in a tomb, while all the other disciples except Mary, Mary Magdalene and the "Beloved Disciple" seem to have been cowering in fear. Also, having attended my mom as she was dieing, in my home in hospice, and being there while the hospice nurse attended to her body and then the car came from the cremation place -- it is a sacred act and Joseph of Arimathea's actions attest to that as well.

  20. No question. It's Joseph for me today. He took the risk of approaching Pilate for Jesus' body, and he gave Jesus his own tomb. A hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes! There are a lot of smells in these two stories! I'm guessing they were expecting Jesus' body to stink too. Both these stories remind me that the kingdom is grounded in our own stench of death and nowhere else. I'm following John Caputo here when I say that justice is a tactile matter of "kardia," the heart, and of mercy, and not of some mythical Greek "shining" of Being. Today follows the third time the U.S. has vetoed a ceasefire to Israel's genocide in Gaza, so I need that reminder that God lives in the stink of death, and with the crushed and oppressed, and not among the snipers in the Apaches and those who send billions of dollars for the instruments of mass destruction and land dispossession.

  21. SEC - nice pairing of saints today: Jesus taking Lazarus out of the tomb and Joseph putting Jesus into one. Clever.

  22. In this era in which we struggle to distinguish condemnation of true horrors perpetrated by fellow human beings from rising antisemitism, Joseph's character and example are crucial. In a play I once wrote a character emphasized "a member of the council who did not agree" and a woman told me she had never noticed that detail, and she was rebuked by it.