Sermon – April 6, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Fifth Sunday in Lent
…he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out…. John 11:43-44
Please be seated.
I have spoken before about living in Washington, DC. While there, I spent a lot of time at the Washington National Cathedral. I mean, on Sundays, I sang at the 8:45 service; often helped at the 11:15 service; went to lunch nearby; and came back for the 4pm Evensong service. Something was happening to me spiritually when I moved to Washington and I found comfort in the Cathedral’s space.
There is a quiet space in the crypt level, called the Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Often, after the service, I went there to pray. It is lit with candle light and there is only one small stained glass window to let in the light from outside. It is known as the quietest space in the Cathedral and was a place of deep prayer for me.
Just outside of the Center is Resurrection Chapel. The walls are filled with mosaics representing scenes from the resurrection of Jesus. The small gold and red pieces dominate and seemingly illumine the space. This chapel is reserved for quiet prayer and was often a place to go to after being in the Center.
One Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in Resurrection chapel. I don’t remember the circumstances of my life just then. It may have been after my mother died or a relationship didn’t work out. I sat in that Resurrection Chapel and heard, “I will resurrect your life.” I left excited and also curious and puzzled. I wasn’t exactly sure what it all meant. One thing I knew was that my life was on a path of change.
We hear quite a bit about resurrection today, don’t we? The lesson from Ezekiel is a familiar one. The Israelites were in bondage in Babylon. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. At the time, some believed they would be cut off from God because their temple was gone and they were in a foreign land. But Ezekiel’s visions of the Glory of God confirm that God is with the people in exile. And today’s passage is the message that though the Babylonian exile is harsh to the point of them feeling like dried out bones, God will restore them. God will give them new life. God will resurrect them. The dry bones will live again.
Then there’s the well-known story of Lazarus, Jesus’ good friend. Jesus is about 24 miles away from Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He is across the Jordan River, near where he had been baptized. This is a desert, dry place in modern-day Jordan. Jesus receives word that Lazarus has died. Eventually Jesus goes to Bethany where this dramatic resurrection unfolds. Although dead for three days, Jesus calls Lazarus to wake from death…to come out of that tomb. And Lazarus does just that! Mary and Martha are overjoyed and many believe Jesus is the Messiah. At the same time, the scene is set for Jesus to be crucified. This astonishing miracle offends the authorities. Jesus is dangerous.
Earlier in the week, I was speaking with a 10 year old boy about this very story. I told him it was the Gospel for the week and asked him what I should preach about. We agreed that to see Lazarus rise from the dead would have been both amazing and scary. And we never hear Lazarus’ side of the story, do we? What was it like for Lazarus to climb out of that tomb and back into life? What was the rest of his life like?
The author Colm Toibin explored this somewhat in his fascinating short book, The Testament of Mary, which became a Broadway play last year. While the book is not a Biblical retelling of the story, it does explore what might have been Lazarus’ experience in being resurrected. In Toibin’s story, people flocked around Lazarus out of curiosity and at the same time, they were afraid of Lazarus…afraid of what he’d seen and what he knew. No one could relate to what Lazarus had been through. Toibin presents Lazarus as dazed by his experience. AND ultimately, Lazarus would die once again.
The joy of resurrection, the knitting of the dry bones together once again, comes with some tough challenges.
And is that not true of our lives? “I will resurrect your life,” we hear when we are in that dry wilderness place…bone weary, closed in the tomb with no light. Maybe a place of comfort in some sense…a place of protection…a wall between us and the world. Yet, the stone is rolled away, Jesus cries with a loud voice, and pulls us out into the world.
The important point to note is that we are not the same. We cannot resume our lives as they were before. Everything has changed. The experience in the exile of the tomb changes us and changes us in ways we cannot always explain to others. We are old, yet new born. The bones may be the same, but they are knit together and clothed in new ways. Hope and astonishment are moderated with the reality of living life in a new way.
Once again Paul reminds us of the fruits of coming out of the tomb when he writes to the Romans, “To set the mind on flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” He adds, “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Life, peace, and the Spirit of God dwelling within us allow us to come out of the tomb, face the challenges and to live again.