2 April, 2017
“Take my lips, oh Lord and speak with them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about transformation. No surprise there, Lent is a season of transformation. I wonder if you heard a note of hopefulness, of new life welling up, in our lessons this morning? Ezekiel gives us one of the most memorable prophetic visions in all the Bible, You remember, it’s set in the valley of dry bones. In a disaster of epic proportion the nation had fallen to Babylon. Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple desecrated, the people taken into exile. Talk about a crisis of faith! Sure as anything the people wondered if their history with God, the one who had once brought them safely out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land, was at an end. It’s a small detail but notice that early in the passage the prophet acknowledged the Lord as the source of life. Within the vision Ezekiel experienced himself taken by God to a valley full of very many very dry bones. God told Ezekiel to tell the bones to listen to the Lord. God told the bones that their bodies would be restored and breath would return to them. Then, Ezekiel, prophesying as he was told, heard the noise of those bones rattling their way back together. And God, speaking through Ezekiel, called on the four winds to breathe on that long dead multitude. The house of Israel was restored to live again in the knowledge of God. What was it like, do you suppose,to be part of God’s holy nation all that long time ago? Here’s the thing. Ezekiel’s vision is a promise of transformation. God will restore the community. For those Israelites living in exile and despair this was a powerful message of hope. Without that vision, that word from God, what hope did the people have? What hope do we have? Because, of course, it’s our story too. It’s a story that points out the stunning power and freedom we find when God’s whole community is restored to faithfulness and to action. What powerful good news it is that we can be enlivened, even on this side of the grave, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Our Gospel lesson today gives us another story about how life is restored even in the face of death. Again, we hear how life comes from God alone. Jesus is the prophet in this story. It is up to him to bring God’s message of life. Think about what Jesus said to his disciples. He went to Bethany so that they might believe, so we might believe. This story both directs our thoughts toward Jesus’ own death and points to the power of God to give life. On the surface, it is a pretty simple story. But listen closely, God is speaking directly to us. Lazarus is taken sick and his sisters send for Jesus, knowing that he can restore their brother to health. How odd that he delays. These are dear friends of Jesus In God’s good time Jesus approaches Bethany. But Lazarus has already died. Naturally enough, his sisters grieve. The funeral rituals proceed, the man is laid in his tomb. Four days later, when the common wisdom of the time would say that his spirit had entirely left that man’s body, Jesus finally arrives. Martha meets him on the road only to tell him he is too late. Did you hear what Jesus said then? “Your brother will rise again” and “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.” Martha responds with faith and the action proceeds. Martha goes to fetch Mary who seems to accuse; “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” In the face of Mary’s grief Jesus is deeply moved. He asks; “where have you laid him?” They say to him: “come and see.” That’s such a simple phrase buried in the story here, but in the Gospel According to John, the words “come and see” are a clear call to discipleship. Jesus and the others arrive at the tomb. Jesus asks that the stone be rolled away, he looks to heaven and prays, thanking God for always hearing him. And then he cries out in a loud voice commanding Lazarus to come out. And Lazarus does come out, trailing his grave cloths. Did you notice? The raising of Lazarus is so like the account we will hear about Jesus’ own death and resurrection. And, in fact, this event is the one that will lead directly to the plot against Jesus’ life. But what about us? Is God’s power to transform still active, even in our own lives? Hearing these stories now, deep in Lent, reminds us that God’s spirit is our source of life just as much as it was for those ancient Israelites, for Lazarus, and for Jesus himself. The texts push us to consider, are we living according to God’s spirit or not? It occurs to me that there are so many ways to push God away, to put God to the test and then, if to our minds, God seems to fail, to turn away. It is easy to question just how much God cares after all. But of course, God does care. God cares deeply. Jesus comes and weeps with us. That is the grace in our story today. Jesus came and wept and healed, not as was expected, but in God’s time and in God’s way. Jesus made the love of God real in that situation, and life was transformed. We are called and empowered to do likewise. A meditation by Barbara Crafton reminds me that in Christ God forever closed the gap between heaven and earth. By living and dying as one of us God assured us that nothing human can be foreign to God and our human sorrow can never separate us from the love of God. In Jesus God entered into our despair and redeemed it. We have that word of promise, death is not our final reality, not literal death, and not all those smaller deaths, the failures and disappointments we all experience. God has promised life to us. And God has called us to discipleship. The last line of one of my favorite Lenten hymns says it well. “the friends you make shall bring God’s glory bright, the way through life adorning, and love shall be the prize. Arise, arise, and make a paradise” As the body of Christ we are called to make God’s love real for one another, so real that we experience abundant life right here in the present, so real that life itself is transformed until we too experience a foretaste of the eternal life that God promises in the future. Arise, arise and make a paradise. Amen.