Nearly a week ago Spring officially started here in the Northern Hemisphere signaling the time of year where new life and new growth begin for the created world around us. Flowers begin to bloom, trees bud and many of the living creatures are participating in new life. When we look at this morning’s lessons and Gospel we can see that God is very Springlike, and Spring mimic’s the Creator’s nature in bringing about new life.
In the passage from Ezekiel, the prophet’s vision is ultimately of God’s renewal. Ezekiel receives a vision of a valley full of dry bones, which symbolizes Israel’s disconnect from God(verse 11). Israel has “died” and is without God’s spirit. Israel is in a dark place, in death, in the grave(verse 12). However, despite the disconnect from God, as symbolized in the vision - the bones separated from the sinew, sinew from the flesh, and the flesh ultimately from the breath - the Spirit will be put within them. God will restore Israel, bringing a newness to their state(verses 13,14).
In Psalm 130, we see again a renewal take place, in this case a change in mindset. The psalmist is in the depths and looking for deliverance. The psalmist is in “darkness” and waiting for the light, specifically the morning light, a light at the end of a time of darkness. The psalmist seems to reflect on God’s nature and while waiting is reminded that there is redemption. The psalmist knows that this redemption, this newness is not just on an individual level but also collective and corporate as they call on Israel to acknowledge God’s mercy and “plenteous” redemption.
In the lesson from Romans, we see a juxtaposition of flesh and spirit. This has similar imagery to the passage from Ezekiel, but Paul brings slightly different connotations. For Paul the flesh, while metaphorically connected to the body in this case, equates to living selfishly in sin and apart from God, not focused on Godly things. We might liken this to Israel’s condition in Ezekiel and the separation the Psalmist feels at the beginning of Psalm 130. Whereas the spirit in Paul’s description indicates living righteously, focused on God and Godly things, with God’s Spirit dwelling inside of us. God brings new life to our fleshly state
through the Spirit. We have access to newness because the Spirit of God raised Christ from the dead.
In following the order of the lectionary today, we are brought to the passage from the Gospel of John. I would like to take a moment or two in order to acknowledge some of the complexities with this passage. I do not wish to cheapen or simplify it by nonchalantly connecting it to the theme that I see present today.
At this current moment in time, here today March 26th, 2023, we are one
Sunday away from celebrating Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and approximately two weeks away from the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In the chronological context of John’s gospel, which is different from the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, this account with Lazarus, which also does not appear in the Synoptics, is a week before Passover and the crucifixion of Christ.
In the literary construct, this passage is smack dab in the middle of John’s Gospel. 10 chapters before, 10 chapters after. Within the first half of John’s Gospel, the author highlights 7 “signs” of Jesus, one of which was part of the lectionary last week, and a few of the others appear in other lectionary calendars.
This account is the last of the seven “signs'' recorded in John’s Gospel. It is the sign that broke the camel’s back; pushed the religious leaders over the edge; it is the breaking point. Today’s Gospel selection stops a few verses short of the religious leaders escalating their plot to kill Jesus. (Uh, didn’t Jesus just raise Lazarus from the dead and now the leaders want Jesus dead?!?)
So now the raising of Lazarus.
On first take, Lazarus is sick, Jesus is sent for, Jesus comes (cough “late”), gets an earful from Martha and Mary, and then raises Lazarus. New Life!
This depiction of God, in Christ, bringing new life has some further implications for us as we dig deeper.
First, the sisters’ pleas. If Jesus had just come quicker he could have healed Lazarus of the sickness and he wouldn’t have died, yet they express faith that Jesus could do something. Jesus is met on the road to Bethany first by Martha and a discussion ensues about Lazarus’ resurrection. Martha assumes it is a delayed event saved for the day of the resurrection, but Jesus, in His cryptic way, seems to imply that it will not occur as Martha envisions. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, as He was on that day with Martha and as He is today with us. God’s resurrection is accessible in this life.
Second, this event gave God glory, and Jesus, who was and is one with the Father, knew this to be the case. He stated to the disciples when they received word from the messenger, when they were running “late” and He reminded Martha right before calling Lazarus out of the tomb. Furthermore, according to Jewish belief the spirit leaves the body three days after death, so here on the fourth day when Jesus showed up, Lazarus was dead, like dead dead. To those that traveled from Jerusalem to mourn and pay their respects, many if not all, would’ve counted Lazarus a lost cause. God is the giver of new life, which, for human expectations may seem delayed but right on time for bringing glory and leading people to an encounter with God.
Lastly, we see that Jesus is affected emotionally by this situation, as it is
described that “Jesus wept.” The emotions of Jesus are minimally represented in the Gospels. In the garden at Gethsemane found in the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke; the clearing of the temple found in all of the Gospels, and now here in John chapter 11. We don’t know exactly why Jesus is weeping. Perhaps he is an empathetic crier. He sees the sisters and others grieving and mourning, he feels the weight of the situation, and in empathy, in solidarity, he too weeps. Or perhaps, as it is stated in the Gospel, Lazarus is one whom Jesus loved and Jesus is heartbroken and wrecked at this momentary loss, and I say
momentary because Jesus has already indicated that Lazarus has “fallen asleep”. Or perhaps, Jesus knows that what he is about to do will set in motion his betrayal, execution and resurrection. Whatever the reason, the image of Christ, God’s son, incarnate deity, embracing the emotional state of humanity is powerful, reassuring and hope inducing. God the giver of new life has experienced our life.
So what might all of this mean for us, here today?
For some of us here today, we are looking for and want to encounter the
newness that God can give. We may be waiting like the Psalmist for the morning light. We may be like the dry bones of Ezekiel, needing the components of life to be regenerated so the breath of God can inhabit our being. Or perhaps we are feeling more like Lazarus - dead dead and need God to resurrect us. Whatever it might be, may Jesus’ words to Martha bring us comfort,
“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.”
For others of us here, we have experienced God’s newness. God’s Spirit dwells in us. We are sharing that newness of life because we have encountered God at some point in our lives. We are like the psalmist calling others to “wait for the LORD”, to find that “there is mercy” and “plenteous redemption”.
And there are some of us that are in between. Neither dead, nor feeling full of
God’s newness. However, if in faith we send for Jesus’ healing touch like the sisters did, or go to meet Jesus on His way to us, we will find “the resurrection and the life”.
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