Readings: Ezekiel 37: 1 -14, Psalm 130, Romans 8: 6-11, John 11: 1-45
Thanks to Feasting on the Word, Year A Volume 2 pgs 122 – 145 and The New interpreters Bible Volume 9, pgs 684- 695
In a way all of our readings seem a bit out of place in Lent and would be better suited for Easter when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the sure and certain hope of our own resurrection.
We will be reading the famous story of Ezekiel being taken by the Lord to a valley of dry bones in the desert which then come back to life. It would be difficult to paint a more bleak picture of death and destruction than a desert valley full of bones scattered all over the place. It is an image of complete hopelessness, “ Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, we are cut off completely.” But there is an amazing joyful ending where the bones put on flesh and have life breathed into them. Ezekiel’s context was exile and the people of Judah were like those dead bones and so Ezekiel is saying to them take hope, Israel will once again be a people and nation but as Kelton Cobb observes this story may be the earliest teaching in the Bible that gave rise to our hope of the resurrection of the body.
I think a good sermon could use this amazing image of dry bones coming to life to think of how God is able to breathe new life into deathly places in our world today. I think the Negro Spiritual is a good example of how this text has been used to bring hope. Connected to this is the powerful scene of people unbinding Lazarus from the death cloths he had been buried in. How can we unbind people from death in partnership and in obedience to the one who is resurrection and life?
We see the theme of resurrection and new life in the epistle reading. Paul in Romans says “ he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his spirit that dwells in you.”
And of course in the Gospel reading we witness Lazarus who was dead come back to life and we hear Jesus say to Martha, I am the resurrection and the life.”
The Psalm for does not explicitly refer to life after death but praises God for his great power to redeem and surely that power is a power great enough to redeem death into life.
So it does seem a bit strange ( although it is always timely)to preach on resurrection and life before Easter.
I think the main reason we have these readings is that our Lords healing ( resuscitation )of Lazarus is the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused the authorities to arrest and kill him which leads us to the events of Holy Week. If you read on a bit from our reading, you hear the ironically true statement of Caiaphas, “it is better for one man to die for the sake of the nation” He was correct but for the wrong reason. Jesus would die for the nation for the whole world so that we might have eternal life not to prevent Rome from destroying the temple as Caiaphas purported would happen if Jesus was not killed.
I think a good sermon might flesh out the tremendous good news of John 11: 25 – 26, “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. Do you believe this?
I can’t improve on Gail O’Day’s comments on these verse where she notes“ as the resurrection and the life , Jesus defeats death in the future and in the present. These verses offer a vision of life to the believer in which his or her days do not need to be reckoned by the inevitable power of death, but instead by the irrevocable promise of life with God. They invite the believer to a vision of life in which one remains in the full presence of God during life and after death. The physical reality of death is denied power over one’s life with God, as is the metaphysical reality of death.”
But if all of the readings celebrate resurrection and the defeat of death , they also do not skip over the depth of pain death causes us. In fact the Psalm begins, “Out of the depths I cry to you , O Lord.” The psalmist is in pain and he yells at God. Jesus may not be yelling at God but he is deeply disturbed and troubled by the death of his friend Lazarus, and he cries because he loves him as a friend. And so these themes of darkness and pain do seem more Lenten in nature and a good sermon might address these issues.
I really liked the somewhat imaginative approach to the Ezekiel story Katherine Amos took. She read of two sets of bones being found in the same area but from very different times. One set of bones showed that the people had had lots to eat and were very healthy. The other group of bones from a different era demonstrated that these people had lived in the area when there was less water and food and so they had been as healthy. So Amos pondered what the spiritual deficiencies in our bones might be. What have we been depriving ourselves of? For example she asks,” Would we show a deficiency of study , prayer, do we pray for and desire the fruits of the Spirit”( Feasting on the Word)
Taking this approach would feel more like a Lenten discipline and of course I would preach this theme not in an effort to make people feel guilty but as an opportunity for growth and life.
I have really short changed the readings this week , but here are some of my preliminary thoughts.
Tags: ezekiel valley of dry bones death judah israel kelton cobb bible resurrection lazarus romans jesus rome