John 11:17-27,38-53 / Lent 5A / 10 April 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
“Son of man, can these bones live?” Can the bones of Lazarus four days dead in the grave live? Can your dry dead bones live? The answer with Jesus is “Yes. By His Word and breath they can live, for He is the Resurrection and the Life.”
The prophet Ezekiel was given to see Israel in all her deadness. A valley full of dry, dusty bones, the remnants of a battle perhaps. The bones were very dry because the people were very dead. Bones dried up, life dried up, hope dried up. “Our bones are dried up,” the Israelites said. “Our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” Dead as dead can be.
Can these bones live? Not if it were up to us they can’t. The dead can’t raise the dead. The dead can’t raise themselves. Bones can only lie there dusty and dead, relics from an ancient past. Did anyone even know their names or who they were? Death in all its harsh finality is writ large in this valley of dry, dusty bones.
Can these bones live? Yes, but they must hear the Word of the Lord. “Prophesy, preach, to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’”
From the dust, the Lord made Adam and breathed in his nostrils the breath of life, and Man became a living being. To be alive is to have the Word and Breath of God. Without the Word and breath there is only death. Dry, dusty death.
Ezekiel obediently preaches to this congregation of bones, speaking what he is given to say from the Lord. Not words, but the Lord’s. Those words are spirit and they are life. The bones hear and obey. They come together again, bone to bone. Flesh and sinew and skin. And then the breath, the wind, the Spirit of God blows and they stand up and they live. Yes, dry dusty bones can live by the Word and Spirit of God. Israel’s bones can rise up, a great army. Your bones can live by the Word and the Spirit of God.
We are born dead. Dead in trespasses and Sin. Dead as those dry bones. We may think we are alive, we may live in denial of Death, we may try to convince ourselves that we can have a life apart from the Word and the Spirit, but in the end there is only death and those dry, dusty bones. That is our lot. “Dust you are, and to the dust you shall return.” Adam’s death is our death too. What passes as a life is really death delayed, a kind of race from the womb to the tomb. So it is with every “son of man.” NInety-three times, God calls the prophet Ezekiel “son of man,” to remind him of his own mortality. As a “son of man” his destiny are these bones laid out before him. And they are our destiny as well.
Jesus’ friend Lazarus went to join those bones. He had been sick, critically so. His sisters Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus. “Please come quickly! Your friend is very sick.” But Jesus did not come quickly. In fact, he intentionally waited two days and by the time He arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was four day’s dead. Not quite dry, dusty bones but well on the way. Jesus let His best friend die. He didn’t rush in to make an emergency call. He simply let Lazarus go to death and told His disciples, “I’m going to wake him up.”
For Jesus, death is nothing more than a sleep from which to be wakened. We cannot rouse ourselves, nor can other rouse us from this sleep. No alarm in the world can wake us up from death. But the Word and the Spirit can. Jesus goes to the grave not to mourn but to conquer, not to weep in grief but to cry out against it and pierce through the darkness with His Word and breath.
By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. The town had gathered. The mourners were there. Mary and Martha were understandably upset with Jesus. He was their friend. They had entertained Him in their house. Martha had cooked all day for Him. And He didn’t come when they called Him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” He made the lame to walk, He gave the blind their sight. Couldn’t He have come to Bethany sooner? He could have saved Lazarus from death.
Even in her anguish and hurt, there is a glimmer of hope in Martha. “Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” But there’s more to Jesus than that. Jesus is not simply a prophet come from God, someone to whom God listens and grants favors. He’s not simply a “son of man” like Ezekiel, a mere mortal. He is the Son of Man, the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth granted Him by the Father. He is the creative Word in the flesh, the Word through whom all things were made and in whom everything holds together. His words are Spirit and they are life.
Martha’s hope is for the last day, Resurrection Day. She knows and believes that she will see her brother again on the day of resurrection. But there is something more that she does not know. Resurrection day, the last day is not yet, but there is a now. Our hope is not just for a day to come but for today. It isn’t only about a resurrection to come but a resurrection that is already here.
“I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Jesus delivers the last of His seven I AM sayings. Resurrection and Life are present tense with Jesus. They are here and now. “Whoever believes in me lives even though he dies. He lives in spite of his death. He lives in his death. To believe in Jesus, to trust Him, is to live. Death may be our destiny in Adam, but life is our lot in Jesus. In Adam all die, in Christ are all made alive. You, dear baptized believer, you live even though you die. In fact, death no longer has mastery over you because death no longer has mastery over Jesus. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. To be baptized into Him, to believe in Him and trust the promise He has made to you in your Baptism, is to have His life now even as you wind your inexorable way to death.
And there’s still more. “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Literally, “will never die forever.” Oh, you will die. And you live in Jesus in spite of your death. But living and trusting in Jesus you will never die forever. Death can’t hold you. The grave can’t hold you. Because Jesus broke the bonds of death and the grave forever with His own dying and rising.
To show that His words do what they say, to show that He truly is the Resurrection and the Life, Jesus goes to the tomb of His friend Lazarus. Martha’s worried. “There will be an odor.” She doesn’t quite trust that Jesus is who He says He is – the Resurrection and the Life. With Jesus, Death has lost its sting. The grave has been conquered. The stench of death’s decay gives way to the fresh breath of life. He goes to the open tomb. He prays a very unnecessary prayer for the benefit of those watching. And He shouts into the tomb, “Lazarus, come out.” His words, His breath. And like the dry bones in the valley, Lazarus emerges from his own grave, wearing his burial cloths.
You’d think the religious world would have been impressed by that. But like the man born blind in last week’s Gospel, Lazarus fares no better. They plotted to kill him along with Jesus. Jesus predicted this in a parable about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. “They won’t believe even if someone should rise from the dead.”
Can your dry, dead bones live? Oh yes they can! Just ask Lazarus. Jesus let him die, but that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. Nor is it for us. We are born dead, but God has made us alive in Christ Jesus. By grace, a gift. Through fatih, not our doing but God’s doing. You can’t ask the dead to raise themselves. Ezekiel didn’t tell the bones to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. He preached to the Word to them. He preached the Spirit into them. That’s what God does to our dry, dusty bones in Baptism, in the proclaimed Word. He makes believers out of unbelievers. He raises the dead to life. He forgives the sinner. All with His Word and His breath.
You are baptized into Jesus’ death and life. You have the Spirit of God, the breath of God dwelling in you. According to the flesh, to your adamic birth, you are dead and dying. But according to the Spirit, your baptismal birth, you are alive to God in Christ. And if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
This is as certain and sure as Jesus crucified and risen from the dead is certain and sure. He is the Resurrection, He is the Life. Trust Him and you will live even though you die. Live in Him and trust Him, and you will never die forever.
In the name of Jesus,