Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 6, 2014
St. Philip's Chapel, Voorhees College
In this final Sunday of the season of Lent, we have reminders that Easter is coming soon. And we need such reminders, don’t we? Lent can seem oppressive – both in terms of themes and in length of time. It is not meant to be so, but it can seem that way. It is a long season … sort of like the season of winter this year. Ash Wednesday seems like months ago, rather than only weeks. Thus, it helps us to have reminders that Easter will soon be here. And our readings today offer such reminders.
To begin with, Ezekiel provides us the vision of the valley of dry bones. And I cannot read that passage without thinking of the song, “Dem Dry Bones.” Now, don’t worry. I am not going to try to sing that song, which should be a relief to you. But, I imagine that you remember the words, as I do. “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones … Toe bone connected to the foot bone; Foot bone connected to the ankle bone; Ankle bone connected to the leg bone…” And on and on goes this questionable lesson in biology. However, the greater lesson is not questionable at all. Ezekiel’s vision involves bones that come together and life that results, when God gives breath to the dry bones.
In Ezekiel’s day, the people of Israel had troubles, and they had reason to feel hopeless. The holy city of Jerusalem had been conquered and overrun. The people had been captured and taken into exile by the hated Babylonians. Thus, the people were like dry bones in the valley of a foreign land. But Ezekiel’s prophecy to the people in that troublesome time of exile was full of hope. God can take the dry bones and attach them together again. And God can breathe life into those dry bones. And the people will be resurrected from the death of their exile.
You see, this is a wonderful vision of hope. Even in Lent, therefore, we know that Easter is coming soon.
Now, St. Paul’s words to the Romans can sound threatening. Listen to several verses from the Second Lesson. “To set the mind on the flesh is death … For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God … Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (8: 6,7,9).
However, St. Paul’s intention is not to be threatening but, rather, to be comforting. We understand that intention as we read other verses, which serve as contrasts to the ones I just read. “You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you … If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you” (8:9,11).
Therefore, once again, we may sense the theme of resurrection. “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also.” Surely, Easter is coming soon.
Finally, in the Gospel reading today, we heard the story of the raising of Lazarus. That dramatic account concludes this way: “(Jesus) cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feel bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (Jn 11: 43-44).
The dead Lazarus has life, at the command of our Lord. The bonds of death are powerless before Jesus, who says with authority, “Unbind him, and let him go.” And there is no more obvious preview of resurrection in all of scripture than this encounter. Truly, Easter is coming soon.
As we conclude this season of Lent, what may we learn from our readings today – readings which so clearly anticipate Easter? The basic message here is that God can give life, even where death seems to have had its way. The vivid image of the dry bones and the dramatic experience of Lazarus testify to the power of God to give life. St. Paul puts the appropriate theological perspective on this power of God, in pointing out the resurrection of Jesus as the source of our hope.
Therefore, the power of God gives life – to dry bones, to Lazarus, and to Jesus himself. The question for us becomes this: “What has died in our lives?” Or, “where is it that death seems to have had its way with us?” Perhaps some hope or dream has died for us. Maybe a relationship has ended. Perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has been missed. We all deal with death in life. But the message today is that God gives life, even over death – to dry bones, to Lazarus, to Jesus, and to you and me. May we have eyes to see and hearts to know and mouths to tell that God’s gift of life is greater than any experience of death! Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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