Date: The Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 6, 2014
Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-45
Context: Life from death. Hope from despair. This is the plan of God the Father, to restore his creation—brutalized by sin—to life again through God the Son. As we draw closer to Holy Week, what is the implication of Jesus’ death and resurrection? What has the death and rebirth of this God-man accomplished, and how are you and I affected by it? In this week’s readings we see graphic depictions of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Hope for life and recreation, even when death seems so certain and final.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 — This memorable vision depicts the power of the Word of God. That which seems beyond hope, beyond life, beyond restoration is brought hope, brought life, brought restoration through the Word of God as prophesied by Ezekiel in his vision. What we cannot do for ourselves, God can do. What we cannot hope to attain, God the Father gives to us in God the Son through faith conveyed by God the Holy Spirit. For the Christian there is no situation without hope, because our hope extends beyond the grave itself to new life and restoration in Jesus Christ. Our own suffering death is still a context for praise of our God who has promised not simply to preserve us from these things, but to deliver us through them to eternal life.
Psalm 130 — What is the constant condition of the Christian then? That of waiting and watching. We live in the constant cry to the Lord—when, O Lord, when? It is a cry not of despair or anger though, but rather a cry of confidence. We are bold to proclaim as Job did, For I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has thus been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27b). Our Lord is coming again. Let us watch and wait!
Romans 8:1-11 — St. Paul beautifully describes our hope. Not the hope for piecemeal improvement by bits and pieces, starts and stops, but of full and final restoration in Christ. This is what we already have through faith in Jesus Christ—peace with God the Father and the promise of eternal life just as Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead, and as Lazarus in the Gospel reading for today is a foreshadowing of. Our minds therefore are not fixed on our own efforts, but rather constantly on what God has done for us through his Son. That emphasis will lead us more naturally to be the children of God in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Only by focusing on what God has done can we begin to realize the fruits of that victory here and now, as well as in the moment of death.
John 11:1-45— The story of Lazarus is a long one. But it foreshadows Jesus’ own impending death and resurrection. It is an opportunity for teaching as Jesus leads those He loves closer to an understanding not only of who He is as the Son of God, but what that means for themselves and the ones they love.
Our hearts are all too often fixed on short-term prayers for temporal deliverance. It is not wrong to lift our present concerns to the Lord as Mary and Martha do in verse 3. We enjoy the blessed relationship of children to our heavenly Father and He wants us to come to him in prayer with all our joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. But we so often seek only for small things, forgetting all that we have been given in Christ’s death and resurrection!
So it is that Martha can only lament that had Jesus responded more quickly, Lazarus would be alive. She knows that Lazarus will live again on the last day, but this is not enough to mediate her grief now. How easy it is for us to lose ourselves in the stretches of minutes and days and years that we think constitute our life, forgetting (in part because we cannot comprehend it!) how brief our time is here compared to the eternity that awaits us! Mary as well is disappointed that Jesus did not save her brother from death by arriving sooner, and the Jews who gathered to mourn with the family also seemed disappointed that Jesus had not done for Lazarus what He had done in other ways for others. Surely as close friends of Jesus, these people were entitled to preferential treatment!
Jesus has not come simply to comfort us in our scrapes and scratches in this life. He has not come simply to ensure us a life of ease and simplicity and comfort. He has not come just to deliver us from illness or blindness or frustration or disappointment or loss or sorrow or even the effects of physical death itself. Rather, He has come to provide us with so much more, something that allows us to experience these painful things in their proper context. Pretexts to a much larger and more beautiful story. Part of the shaping of our eternal character and nature. Opportunities for trust in the God who created us and redeemed us and has promised us eternal life.
Jesus restores Lazarus to life. But eventually, Lazarus dies again. The blind that Jesus granted sight to eventually closed their eyes in death. The lame eventually were compelled to lay down in their graves. These signs that Jesus did were certainly important but they were not final. Rather, they pointed to the most important work and sign—his resurrection from the dead. This is where the life and ministry and miracle-working of Jesus finds proper understanding and recognition. Jesus will settle nothing for complete restoration to life from death. Not just for you and I personally but for all creation! The creation that was dead in sin like the valley of dry bones will be made anew, the Spirit of God will breathe into it and it will live and we in faith with it!
We do not seek out or embrace suffering here and now but we encounter it in the larger joy and promise of eternity with our Savior. Moment by moment we declare by the strength of God the Holy Spirit within us that we are children of our heavenly Father, and our present suffering and even death itself will not change this nor separate us from his love. Our future is more certain than any medical prognosis. We will live! And knowing this, we live now!