Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 10, 2011
Thus says the LORD GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.Â Â Â Ezekiel 37:5-6
Then Jesus told them plainly, â€œLazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.â€ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, â€œLet us also go, that we may die with him.â€Â Â Â John 11:14-16
The spate of long gospel readings continues this week with the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, his friend, from the deadâ€”not just from sleep but from stinky-in-the-tomb dead. The story is jam-packed with excellent material around which to construct a sermon or lesson; one should never lack for plenteous options.
But thatâ€™s not all! We also have the â€œdry bonesâ€ text from Ezekiel and Paulâ€™s passage from Romans that culminates with â€œIf the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in youâ€ (8:11). What a wonderful feast of words and images!
The promise of resurrection abounds in these readings. We have the literal restoration from death to life of Lazarus, the restoration of a people to hope and place, and new life in Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Thatâ€™s a lot of life and hope packed into 65 verses of scripture, a whole lot of good news for a hurting world.
You know, we Christians talk a lot about being â€œresurrection people,â€ but do we really live like it? How often do we let the cares of the world distract us or allow fear to bind us? Why are we so timid about sharing the gospel and telling our faith stories? What an amazing thing we have to share! God loves us to new lifeâ€”not death. There is plenty of witness to that fact in the readings this week.
Just as God had the prophet Ezekiel breathe a breath of hope into Israel, so too are we as leaders called to breathe hope into the communities where we serve. Perhaps a useful approach this week is to figure out just where hope is lacking in oneâ€™s context. Are individuals disheartened by headlines or life events? Is the congregationâ€™s lifeblood oozing forth in pools of despair over flagging numbers and shrinking coffers? Are you as a leader weary and discouraged?
If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, then let these stories be the lens through which the people with whom you share life and ministry catch a glimpse of personal and corporate resurrection. If God can animate dry bones, if Jesus can bring about the restoration of rotting flesh, imagine what the Spirit can do for a tired congregation, for a group of weary and battered disciples,Â and for the communities in which our congregations are rooted!
Itâ€™s not that far-fetched you know. Just take a look at modern medicine. Cadaver bones are increasingly being used to help mend broken bones and torn ligaments. Bio-absorbable screws manufactured from cadaver tissue, known as an allograft, are helping patients experience â€œnew lifeâ€ in the form of increased mobility, quicker recovery, and less risk of infection.
If â€œdry bonesâ€ can make this kind of difference in medicine, imagine what renewal the Spirit can make of our dry bones and dried up dreams. Where God is, there is always hope. Our job is to tell the stories boldly and to really, honestly believe the words we speak.
Pray for the wisdom, the courage, the belief and the audacious hope to share this good news. Make sure you feel the hope and the boldness of Godâ€™s promises deep in your bones. Wouldnâ€™t it be wonderful to walk toward Easter truly believing in the Resurrectionâ€”not only of our Lord but also of his body, the church?
Blessings on your proclamation and teaching!