The readings today, from Ezekiel 37 and John 11, are magnificent but very dramatic.
I have been inspired by the writings of a Uniting Church Minister, a lady named Moira Laidlaw in preparing this message.
Nowadays, if you go to the movies or often even on Television, we get snippets or trailers of an upcoming film or TV Show. It gives you an idea of what is coming but refrains from giving you the whole story or what the critical climax might be.
Today’s readings are a bit like that. We are tracking towards Easter and the inevitability of Good Friday. We are on a journey with Jesus.
Lent is a strange time. The Readings of Lent swing like a pendulum. This week we talk about dry bones, death and sorrow, while next week, Palm Sunday, we join the crowds who welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna and joy.
Today, the Profit Ezekiel has that strange dream or vision in the valley where dry bones are coming to life as the Spirit of God breathes new life into them. John’s Gospel tells us how Jesus raised Lazarus.
Both accounts talk about life following death.
Death and Resurrection
The valley in Ezekiel’s vision was the place of Israel’s exile – the people had been defeated and many, including Ezekiel, were deported to Babylon – the enemy capital. After 10 years in Babylon, the exiles received the news that Jerusalem and the temple had been totally destroyed.
Devastating news for these people.
In despair, the Jewish nation is now feeling that God had abandoned them. Scripture tells us of their cry’s;
“Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely”.
Heartfelt words, which give depth to their belief that they had been totally cut off from the physical and indeed the spiritual source of their lives.
There may be times when we too, feel as though our hope is lost;
- when we feel that we are cut off from God,
- cut off from the things that give us life.
Often we do find our lives filled with the dry bones of death; and we are unhappy and distraught at the desolation, the exile, we suffer.
Our exile is rarely as sweeping as that of the Israelites,
but it can be just as surely a personal valley of dry bones.
This is where life dumps on us;
- when the people we love and care for become sick, or die,
- when marriages or relationships end in destructive divorce or separations, and
- when our children are sick, or indifferent, or even worse, captive to the destructive power of drugs –
- when our hopes are defeated and our deepest desires are unsatisfied.
When life catches us up in an abyss of frustrated hope and unsatisfied desires;
it is not hard to imagine ourselves in the valley of dry bones.
Ezekiel was given the task of comforting the people – of restoring their faith in God.
And in that incredible vision of dead bones being re-clothed with flesh, Ezekiel sees God breathing new life into the people.
Ezekiel was saying – have faith – you may have given up on God, but God hasn’t given up on you.
In the moment of our distress, our dry bones reality;
it is hard to see Gods presence or perhaps even how restoration is possible.
I imagine the people of Syria or South Sudan must feel that way right now. Just as the people of Europe did during the two ‘World Wars’ or those who lived through the ‘Great Depression’, or today farmers in massive droughts, the people caught up in the Queensland cyclone and floods, or people left to recover after devastating bush fires.
But things are restored and new life does breakthrough in miraculous ways.
The Gospel Reading
The gospel reading deals with this in human terms;
taking note of Jesus’ love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Remember Mary – the so called ‘impractical one’ who sat at Jesus’ feet, and Martha, the so called ‘practical one’, who got so caught up in the kitchen, she didn’t have time to sit at Jesus’ feet. The sisters’ message to Jesus in this reading is “Lord, Lazarus, whom you love, is ill.”
Curiously, after receiving the message, Jesus hangs around for two more days before heading off to Bethany.
I wonder if this was human character of Jesus’ coming to the fore. He must have known that another ‘miracle’ would be all that the authorities needed to fast forward their plans to kill him.
How did he spend these two days? We’re not told. I wonder – did he pray for extra strength – for enough courage to start off on this last part of the road to Jerusalem, well aware of the consequences himself? The cross that awaits him!
We now know that Jesus too had a very significant and personal challenge to face. He would need to deal with his own emotions and his own relationship with God the Father.
Haven’t we all experienced “two days” from time to time, where we need space to make difficult decisions?
And then, we have the image of Jesus’ grief, weeping at Lazarus’ tomb, which moves me to believe that here is someone who truly understands and identifies with our human suffering.
Jesus’ tears demonstrate that God is not a distant God, but someone with a human face – who cares enough for us to shed human tears. Who cared enough to die for us so that we can then live with his life in us.
Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus experience resurrection in the person of Jesus – when he calls Lazarus out of the tomb.
Resurrection is here, now for us, who also believe in Jesus and his promises. Jesus weeps outside our tombs of frustration, and suffering. He weeps over our dry bones of death, divorce, separation and exile. He weeps over our despair and our disappointments.
But he calls us forth, knitting our bones together with his flesh and his Spirit. He calls us forth with words of hope and love.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” he says “Those who believe in me, though they die
– though plans die,
– though hopes die,
– though relationships die
they will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Does resurrection happen today?
Personally, I know of a little baby girl that the medical people had said would die. Her father sighed; no more, just an anxious groan in prayer and God answered and breathed new life into her. She is now the mother of three children. She is also my daughter.
God gives us visions of resurrection all around us to help us glimpse the concept but often we fail to see it. Have a look at this slide taken twelve months after the devastation of a bushfire.
As I come to the end of this message, remember I said how a Uniting Church Minister named Moira Laidlaw had inspired me. Well that lady passed on some years ago. So this message is yet another example of resurrection, of how her good work lives on with us even today in a way she may not have imagined.
People do die, tragedies do happen, but remember the words of Jesus;
“I am the resurrection and the life,” he says “Those who believe in me, though they die they will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Let us pray:
Lord, when we too, like the people of scripture, become so caught up in the despair of our own circumstances, and we blur the vision of your constant love and presence in our lives; we pray forgiveness. In this Lent and Easter period, may we recognise the many times in our lives you have raised us up already, that with this knowledge we might strengthen our faith that you will again raise us up on the last day. We pray this in the glorious name of the risen, conquering son, our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ; Amen.
And so, even on this second last Sunday in Lent, we can sing and mean it:
“Yours be the glory, risen, conquering Son, endless is the victory You o’er death hast won.”