Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14 | Psalm 130 | Romans 8:11-16 | John 11:1-45
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?
One of the joys of being forced to stay at home with a six-year-old is that you get a pretty good excuse to play. Earlier this week, after the snow had arrived, our family made a snowman in our front yard
It was pretty adorable, in my humble opinion… especially as I had no hand in its original design. Sadly (for the snowman), as the weather changed our creation began to change too, almost melting away in a very short time.
This called, of course, for an intervention on our part, and we stepped in to “do something” to keep our snow-friend around.
After a fair amount of ‘re-snow-rative surgery’, it seemed we had given our snowman a second chance at life… but judging by his appearance Saturday afternoon…
I’d say his days are likely numbered.
Despite our best efforts, we will soon lose our snow-friend. We know there are all-too real limits to our ability to continue to renew him, and to pretend otherwise won’t really do us any good. The warm weather will come, the temperature will rise, and one day soon we will have to say farewell for good.
As we all continue to adjust to the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic (something we are all no doubt getting sick of hearing and talking about), there seems to be a similar kind of tension going on in the various spheres of our lives and perspectives on the days to come: On the one hand there are lots of examples of the desire to renew or simply keep things going as best we can… using our creativity, perseverance, our technologies, and co-operation to try and preserve the relatively stable way of life that we have come to know. There are many such examples that we do well to pay attention to, and I hope we can be inspired to creatively do our parts as well to support, encourage, and strengthen each other and our communities. But on the other hand, there is also a growing sense that there are some big things in our world that have really changed for good… that despite our best efforts to ‘hold it all together’, there will be no simple fix on the horizon ahead. There is no guarantee that in a few weeks, or months, or more, we will ever get back to our old “normal” again. Our world it seems has been changed, and for the time being at least we must wait to find our what our ‘new’ world will have in store.
There is plenty that we can (and should) be doing in this changing and challenging time, but I believe we also need the humility to recognize our limitations, and to look for a source of hope that is bigger than ourselves.
Our Scripture passages this morning point us in this needed direction: towards the hope we have, revealed through the workings of the Living God… not simply for our restoration, but for our transformation. Not bringing things back to ‘normal’, but bringing about God’s New Creation… His New, Eternal Life.
Beginning with the powerful vision given to the prophet Ezekiel, we too are invited to trust in the Lord, even when everything has come undone and all reasonable hope seems lost. Ezekiel was a prophet in a time of great upheaval. Along with most of the leadership of the Kingdom of Judah, Ezekiel (a priest) was carried off into exile in Babylon. Cut off from his homeland, his vocation, and his whole way of life, he and the rest of the exiles had to adjust to this completely horrid “new normal”, and grieve the people, the stability, and the lives, the world that they had lost.
For a while, some were optimistic that their exile would soon be over. They held out hope that soon they would be able to return home to Jerusalem and get busy restoring things to the way they had been before. But when the news came that Jerusalem had now been utterly destroyed by Babylon, that everything they had known back home was truly gone for good, many of the exiles felt completely crushed. As far as they could see, God had abandoned them, and as a people they were now basically as good as dead. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” But as we read this morning, God had not abandoned His people. They had been humbled, yes, and had been made to face the consequences of their unfaithfulness, but in mercy the Lord offers them this powerful vision of hope: a valley of bones completely dried up, without any future at all… yet re-created, restored, and revived by the life-giving Spirit of God. What was beyond all reasonable hope, Ezekiel is told, is not beyond the Living God’s ability to accomplish: Judah need not give up hope, for God had not given up on them. He would (and did!) come to their rescue again.
And yet, the point of the promise was not simply to show that “God is going to undo all the damage done”… the purpose was to re-create His persistently unfaithful people into a new community, one completely convinced in His gracious saving hand, and committed to their merciful Lord with all of their heart. Ezekiel’s vision evokes hope, but it also calls for faith… faith that results in actual changed hearts and lives. Though still having to face exile for many years to come, God’s people were being asked to place their trust firmly in Him, and to live in their ‘new normal’ as those re-created through faith.
Turning now to our Gospel reading, we are invited to see God’s life-giving power and purposes at work, not through a hopeful vision, but through the actual revival of a dead man: Lazarus.
This is a dense and potent chapter near the heart of John’s Gospel, revealing not simply the power, but the purpose, the mission of Jesus, and poignantly foreshadowing the events of Good Friday and Easter to come. We heard how Lazarus’ family had sent messages to Jesus, pleading with Him to come and heal their brother who was on the brink of death. We heard how, surprisingly, Jesus waits until His friend had died before making the journey to Bethany, and the pain and confusion and ‘if only’s’ that met Him when He finally arrived. We heard that Jesus wept. That He, God’s Son, was moved by grief and sorrow… that He suffered with those who suffer and mourned with those who mourn.
We heard how Martha said that if He had only ‘done something’ sooner, Jesus could have kept her brother alive, and her world from falling apart. And we heard His reply, when He said to her: “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.” And then asks her: “Do you believe this?” Do you trust me? In our moments of confusion, grief, doubt, and fear His words call to us too. Do we… will we continue to put our trust in Jesus? Even if nothing will ever be the same again? Even if, in our eyes, all reasonable hope is gone?
Like Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones come to life, beyond all hope we heard Christ call the dead man Lazarus up out from the grave. But not simply back to how things were before… I mean, how could they be? After being dead for four days and being brought back to life, how could anyone’s life go back to being ‘normal’ again? In his bones, Lazarus would forever know God’s gracious saving hand, and his whole life now would be a living sign for others to behold, and believe.
We will not likely experience the physical transformation that Lazarus did, but we are all summoned to be transformed like him by keeping our faith in Jesus: to let God’s Spirit make its life-giving mark on our own lives, and turn us into signs of hope and of His New Creation at work. As we face the coming days and try to adjust to our ‘new normal’, may our actions and choices (as a parish and individuals), be driven not by desperate attempts to simply ‘get back to the way things were’, or be paralyzed by the fear and despair that ‘nothing will be the same again’, but may we be empowered in all we do by the conviction that the Living God is still graciously at work in our world, and by the hope that, far from being abandoned, you and I are being called to take part in His New Creation, by trusting in and following the One who is “the resurrection and the life.” In Christ, unlike my snowman, are days are far from numbered. So let us hold fast to Him in faith, and serve our Risen Lord of Life. Amen.