March 29, 2020 5th Sunday in Lent The text is John 11:1-45.
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out.
They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Lectionary readings that are selected for each Sunday in the Liturgical year can often present a struggle for the preacher. Finding a close parallel often requires a good deal of linguistic gymnastics, and occasionally, a rather vivid imagination. However, Ezekiel’s prophesy and John’s Gospel compliment each other in a way that is readily apparent. Both attest to the power of the Word of God. Ezekiel pronounced his prophetic vision of a stark valley filled with dry bones during the period of Israel’s exile to Babylon; some 600 years before Jesus travelled to Mary and Martha’s house to weep at Lazarus’ tomb.
Ezekiel’s image of desiccated, lifeless skeletons was a metaphor for the for the grief, anguish, and hopelessness of the people of Israel, as they found themselves cut off from the temple that served as the center of their worship of God. While the readings selected for each Sunday have been in place for a very long time, the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel uses as the image for anguish and loss, eerily serves as a metaphor for the current situation the world is in. Yet, just as the Word of God brings life to the bleached bones in the valley, so will God’s Word deliver God’s people from today’s valley of isolation, worry, and fear. God commands Ezekiel to say to the people of Israel, “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live…you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act”. No matter the depth of the peoples’ suffering, God’s Word will deliver them. And God’s Word will deliver God’s people from today’s adversity.
We fast-forward those 600 years as Jesus lingers a day or two before rushing to Mary and Martha’s house, to tend to their ill brother, Lazarus. He arrives at their hometown, Bethany; which incidentally in Hebrew may be translated as “house of affliction”. Jesus knows that Lazarus has succumbed to his illness but he does not rush to the tomb; he also knows his plan to reveal God’s glory in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus calls out to God so the people will know and understand that his power comes from the Father. The stone is rolled from the entrance to the cave, and with these words, Mary and Martha’s brother is raised from the dead; “Lazarus, come out”. Jesus Christ, the Word of God brings life to the dead Lazarus. And God’s Word will deliver God’s people from today’s adversity.
Fast-forward another 2,000 years and we trust that the God who gave life to Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones and who called a risen Lazarus from the cave will again hear the cries of God’s people. Our God will provide healing, comfort, and hope to a world that finds itself in the throes of unprecedented fear, worry, and forced isolation. God tells Ezekiel to assure the resurrected bones that they will be brought out from their Babylonian exile and will return to their homeland where they may once again worship their God. Jesus tells the would-be mourners at the mouth of the cave to “unbind” Lazarus and give him full freedom.
God’s Word loosened the bonds of slavery and of death; that of the exiled servitude of the children of Ezekiel’s Israel, and by the new life given by Jesus to Lazarus. And God’s Word will deliver God’s people from today’s adversity.
We must trust in God’s Word; in the promises made through the prophetic pronouncement of Ezekiel and in the truth spoken by Christ Jesus. Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life”. “Do you believe this?” Martha answers, “Yes, Lord, I believe”. And as baptized sons and daughters of the God of Ezekiel, and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, we too have answered, “Yes, Lord, we believe”. And since we believe, we trust in the Word of a God who keeps promises. Yet, these are difficult times, even for those who follow the Way of Christ. In our isolation and separation from our brothers and sisters, we ought to do what we can to remain engaged with our faith; its teachings, practices, and the guidance and example given for our lives, by Jesus.
We begin by being ‘virtually’ present with one another through online worship. By practicing the liturgy that Christians have shared for generations, we are reassured that God’s Word will deliver God’s people from today’s adversity. While we lack the fellowship that happens when God’s children gather together, we can find comfort that we are joined through the Spirit that is ever-present when God’s people join in worship; no matter the physical closeness. I encourage you to open and read your bible; in it you will find reassurance that God’s Word will deliver God’s people from today’s adversity. And we are called to act according to the example and command of our Savior to reach out in love to those in need. Although isolated, many of us are surrounded in our homes, by family, and reassured that we are not alone in this. But there are many others who are truly solitary and alone; and these of our sisters and brothers are most in need of reassurance from those who are able to bestow it. So, please check in with your neighbors and especially with members of Emanuel Lutheran who may be most affected by this time of forced isolation. A simple phone call to check in with them and to comfort them with the knowledge that God’s Word will deliver God’s people from today’s adversity.
We will continue virtual Sunday morning worship services on Emanuel’s Facebook Live page for as long as it is necessary. We have established a Zoom account so we might all check-in and see one another, if not in person, at least on our screens. In this way we can still be connected and offer support to each other. We can share the things that make us anxious and cause us fear and worry. And, most importantly we will be able to offer comfort and reassurance to one another; and, maybe share in a little humor. And remind ourselves that God’s Word will deliver God’s people from today’s adversity. We have invited all those members of the church that we have email addresses for to join in these virtual get-togethers. If you know of others that might not be aware that this check-in opportunity is available, please contact the church office so we might be able to reach out to them.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, by your Word you gave life to dry bones. By your Word, Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb. By your Word we pray that you will deliver your people from today’s adversity. Send our Holy Spirit to comfort all who are in fear, worry, and isolation; that all may know the power of your Word.
And in Jesus’ name together we say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.