Life, death, and resurrection
Sermon Notes, Lent 5, 2020 Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. Ez 37:12 Aside from Easter, no readings in the church’s year speak more directly to life, death, and resurrection than these do today, the 5th Sunday in Lent. Ezekiel’s field of dry bones come alive with sinew, flesh and breath. Lazarus steps out of his 4-day tomb at Jesus’ command, wound in burial cloths, to be unwrapped and set free. And the reading from Romans reminds us that we were dead when a slave to sin come alive when a slave to Christ. All three passages are profoundly hopeful. They begin in death and end in a promised resurrection, a rebuke of death’s claim on us and hinting that God has something waiting for us beyond our wildest imagination. In that sense they are timeless passages. We share common ground with Ezekiel’s broken spirited Israelites, with Mary and Martha’s wailing lament for their dead brother, and with Paul’s sinful humanity saved by grace. And we live in the hope of the resurrection, not really sure of what that might look like, but embracing it as our inheritance against the sure physical death that awaits us all. And today, well today these passages have an added poignancy because of the corona virus plague. I read an interesting newspaper article this week comparing the various state resolutions calling for shelter in place restrictions. Specifically, what activities were exempted from the order. And more specific still, how churches and institutions of religion fared. There’s no political ideology hidden behind the rules. Republican and Democratic governors split on whether to allow churches to be exempted from the rules or subject to them. The deciding issue seems to be whether the governors see corporate expression of religious faith as helpful to their people’s health or too risky to allow. In our state, Gov. Inslee sided with those who find it too risky. Some of us wish he had gone the other way. We see a greater need to gather, respecting of course safe distances, because our faith gives us strength and courage to face the heightened risk of death by contagion. One’s point of view largely depends on how you see this battle: as one fought solely on the battlefield of biology, or as one with connections to spiritual warfare whose battleground is cosmic and eternal. If that’s your point of view, these passages are profound in their commentary on today’s nightmare. The sense we get especially from Ezekiel is that God wrenches life from death. He steps in with power and reverses the natural order. Against his command to live, death is powerless to prevail, even though death has already seemingly carried the day and won the battle. Perhaps that’s why all the Biblical teachings of soteriology, from Daniel to Jesus’ teachings on the end times to John’s vison of God’s Revelation, call for a violent time, a time of upheaval when blood will be shed. We find the same theme here. Ezekiel’s field of bones is evidence of violence. How else do so many bones lie in a common field except by violence of some sort? This is not a burial ground; these bones are sun seared and dry. No one laid them to rest. Among the saddest stories coming out of the Corvid-19 annals are those of the families who haven’t been allowed to spend the last hours of their loved ones’ lives with them. Their bones may not be scattered on the ground, but they die just as lonely, and we mourners watch as from a distance. God, however, acts with immediacy to reverse the curse. Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. Ez 37:12 Which is just what Jesus did to Lazarus. But first we see him as one of us, going through the stages of grief that we feel when someone close to us dies. He is overcome with emotion. He weeps. He consoles the family and his grieving disciples. Then, at his own considerable risk, he chooses to go back to Bethany to “be with him.” This part of the story has parallels to the courageous efforts by health care workers who risk their own safety to attend to the sick and dying. They go back into the nursing homes and hospitals to be with the suffering, and in so doing do just what Jesus did. So the stage is set for God to act. There is nothing timid about Jesus’ raising of Lazarus. “When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’” Jesus wrenches Lazarus out of the grave, life from death. Lazarus is thrust back into the swirl of the present day made more chaotic by his miraculous restoration to life. John reminds us that this is a sign, given by Jesus, offered in gratitude to the Father, so “that they may believe that you sent me.” Well, I wonder how many of those who witnessed Lazarus’ restoration recognized it as a sign of the presence of the Son of God. I wonder how many today see the events of our present crisis as a sign of the presence of the Son of God. God is always intimately present in matters of life and death, and he is always on the side of resurrection. When all we hear about from the media and from our political leaders is the chase for a vaccine or the numbers of those who test positive or the movement of the epicenter from one country to another…when our preoccupation is with statistics and our obsession is with sheltering, then we miss the presence of the Son of God. We miss the hope of the resurrection. Not the hope that this present day virus will run its course and allow us to get back to our normal lives. But the hope of the resurrection. Is it just coincidence that this virus strikes the world in the heart of the season of Lent? That it makes of our Ash Wednesday proclamation, “Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return,” so absolutely, literally true and frightening? All the world is experiencing Lent this year as never before. But is this experience leading us to the hope of the resurrection or to depths of existential despair? Easter is fast approaching. The day when the Church will celebrate Christ’s final and redeeming victory over death. Whether we are together in a building or at home looking into our computers, we Christians will celebrate Easter this year. We do so because we believe with open and joyful hearts that God is speaking to us when he says, “I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.” So take care my friends. Do not do anything that might increase your chance of contacting the virus. But neither give it the last word in your thoughts. The last word belongs to Jesus and He is the resurrection and the life. Amen.