LAZARUS, COME OUT
This has been a Lent unlike any we have known. One moment we were enjoying record employment and a booming economy; a month later, we have record unemployment and a record stock market crash.
Our usual patterns of “giving something up for Lent” or “taking something on,” of taking time for additional worship or study or charitable action; our habits of preparing for Easter have all been overshadowed by the coronavirus epidemic. Most of us are not going to work, some have lost jobs or been furloughed or laid off, others work from home. Schools, restaurants, gyms, churches and other areas where we usually gather have been closed. We are directed to stay home, and if we must go out, to keep 6 feet away from all other human beings. We are to wash and wash and wash our hands, keep our hands away from our faces, and use hand sanitizer every time we might have touched a surface that might have been contaminated.
The US now leads the world in numbers infected and the number of deaths doubled in the last two days. The governor of New York tells us the city of NY is 14 to 21 days away from the peak of infections, and hospitals lack sufficient protective gear for their staff.
This has been a Lent unlike any other, and we are looking at a Holy Week that will likewise be unlike any other. Bishop Sutton has suspended in-person services until May 17. Rather than giving up some favorite food for Lent, we are forced to give up communion and must attend services on the internet. I saw in the paper the other day that Roman Catholic bishops are allowing the faithful to eat meat on Fridays during Lent, although not on Good Friday.
This is indeed a Lent unlike any other.
That makes this Sunday’s lessons all the more appropriate. Although we hear the same readings every third year, somehow, each week, they seem as if they were chosen for today, for the coronavirus crisis. This is why we call these texts “scripture’, because they speak to people of every time and every situation, if we are willing to listen.
Each of our readings speaks of resurrection and so directs our attention towards THE Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
The story of Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones has often seemed humorous – dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones; or cinematic – imagine what Hollywood could do with special effects now a days. Today it speaks a word we desperately need to hear.
When this vision came to Ezekiel, the Hebrew people were in exile in Babylon. With those who had not been taken away because they were too poor, the exiles and the remnant were without Temple, without their worship centers, without hope. They were as dead as very dry bones. Could they possibly be restored to life? Any logical, rational, sane person would look at the disaster, the destruction, and shake her head. No, it was hopeless.
Ezekiel suspected there was a truth here that surpassed human understanding, and so when asked if these dry could live, he replied, “You know, Lord.” And God directed him to speak to the bones, and when the bones had come together and been enfleshed, God breathed life into the bones.
The message to the Hebrew people was clear – the same God who breathed new life into very dry bones would restore the people of God, the Hebrew people, God would bring them back home, physically and spiritually.
And God did.
Consider now the story of Lazarus. He has been dead 4 days. Although not “very dry bones,” he was as dead as the people in Ezekiel’s vision. Mary and Martha both believed that if Jesus had been there, he could have cured Lazarus of his disease; but no one even thought about Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life again.
But that is what Jesus did, because that is who Jesus is – I am resurrection and I am life. Those words, so often spoken at funerals, express far more than the promise of some after life where we once again can be with our loved ones, although it does promise that.
I am resurrection and I am life speaks to right now, present tense. If Jesus is Lord, if he is indeed resurrection and life, then we Christians have a hope that exceeds anything promised by politicians, doctors or scientists. Death – physical death, spiritual death, economic death, political death, societal death – Death NEVER gets the last word; God does and that word is LIFE.
I am resurrection and I am life – do you believe this? Martha’s reply must be our own – Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.
Belief in resurrection is the heart and soul of Christianity, and inextricably connected to the belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, the savior of the world.
Continuing the story, Jesus demands that the stone be rolled away from the tomb and shouts Lazarus, come out!
Lazarus, come out!
We are Lazarus. We are locked away in our homes, shut away from the personal contact that forms so large a part of our lives, even if you are a hard core introvert. Yes, in this case we have shut ourselves away for the good of the whole community; Yes, we isolate to flatten the curve, to protect those at highest risk for the virus, but more important than that, we do so in order to avoid overwhelming our health care system with those severally sickened by the virus which includes a lot of young and otherwise healthy people.
We are Lazarus. We are caught in the midst of a severe and unimaginable financial depression, with no end in sight. We are dead to the way of life we have grown accustomed to.
Jesus is Resurrection and Life. That means – on the other side of that stone, that virus that blocks out the world, stands one who calls us back to life.
An interesting and sometimes overlooked part of the Lazarus story is that Jesus, when he heard Lazarus was sick, remained where he was for a significant period of time (four days). Only when there was little doubt that Lazarus was really and truly dead did he travel to Bethany.
So it will be for us. We must wait for a significant period of time before we can come out of our tombs; but because we believe that Jesus is Resurrection and Life, we can be certain that day will come.
Jesus, The Resurrection and Life, declares it so!