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Lent 5, April 10, 2011

Lent 5A RCL April 10, 2011
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

 The journey of the people Israel is our journey. We have followed Abraham into an unknown land. We have wandered in the desert and complained to Moses about the hardships of the struggle for freedom; we have watched as Samuel anointed David King of Israel, and now the ultimate disaster has struck. The Babylonian Empire has defeated Judah and has leveled the temple in Jerusalem. The people have been deported to Babylon.

 In the midst of terrible despair, in which many wondered if their history with God had come to an end, Ezekiel has this vision of the valley of dry bones. These are the people Israel, dead, lying in the valley. And the question is, can these bones live? You know God’s answer. God begins with the earthy, the bones, and puts muscles and skin on the bones, and then God breathes the Spirit into these physical bodies. God brings life out of death. Dry bones live.

 In the epistle today, Paul is talking about life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. These are not two aspects of your life or my life. These are two radically different ways of living, two different frames of reference. Life in the flesh is the pursuit of all those dead ends that never lead to God. And life in the Spirit is the blossoming of new life as we allow ourselves to be rooted and grounded in God.

 Then we come to the gospel, a little prefiguring of Easter in the midst of Lent. Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus very deeply. I believe that they were among his best friends. He would always stop by and stay with them when he was traveling near Bethany. They loved to eat together and talk and laugh and share ideas.

 When Jesus hears that Lazarus is ill, he does not rush to Bethany. We do not know exactly why. We know that he cares deeply about Lazarus and about Mary and Martha. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is dead. Martha rushes out to Jesus and scolds him for not coming sooner, as if Jesus could have prevented the tragedy. Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Later, Mary says the same thing. We think that our Lord can save us from all harm. But it is not true. Even Jesus is visibly moved at this death and at the brokenness of the whole situation. He asks. Where have you laid him?” The stone is rolled away. This is real death. There is a stench.

 And then Jesus calls, “Lazarus, come out!” And his dear friend staggers out into the light, his grave cloths still wound around him. And Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go!”

 We all know what it is to be in the valley of the dry bones. A spouse or a dear friend or a relative has died. A much-needed job ends and we don’t know how we’re going to make ends meet. Our physician gives us or a loved one the news of a very serious diagnosis. An accident claims the life of a loved one, or several lives. Our best friend moves halfway across the country. There we are, totally helpless. There is nothing we can do to fix it or even to help in any real way. What can we do? Absolutely nothing, really. It is out of our hands. It’s beyond our control.

Perhaps that is why Jesus did not rush to Bethany. Because he above all others knows that death is exactly what it is and nothing can change that. What God is telling us today is that God brings life out of death. Dry bones live. Lazarus comes forth and is unbound, and so are we, unbound from all that constricts us and kills us in various ways.

 Sometimes we need to know how helpless we are before we can step back, stop trying to fix it, and let God bring the new life. Sometimes we have to face the fact that we are powerless before we can get out of God’s way and let God work. We have to get to the point where we’ve done everything we can think of and we are asking, “Can these bones live?”

God’s answer is a resounding Yes. God brings life, even in the most desperate of circumstances, even when the night seems so long it will never end, even when the loss seems so profound we will never get over it, that we’ll never be able to put one foot in front of the other again in our lives.

Perhaps especially then, God brings life out of death, every time, always, without fail.

                                                                    Amen.

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