5 Lent – April 2, 2017

John 11:1-45

Such big stories today. Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones and the story of the raising of Lazarus. Big stories. It’s hard to know where to begin.

So let’s begin where they do, with something terrible happening – I think we can all relate.And in your gut you feel that this terrible something has the last word. Life seems ruthlessly constricted. Hope is stifled. No time to come seems worthy of consideration. What’s ahead is not sunrise, but sunset, and endless night.

A situation of this kind is background for the spooky, memorable, fascinating story of the valley of dry bones — very old bones — that are brought back to life, covered with flesh and skin, and breathed into, resuscitated, by the spirit, the breath of God.

This can happen with a people, as it did with exiled Israel in the time of Ezekiel. It can happen also with a family. Hope is stifled when something terrible occurs to a family in the village of Bethany, just outside Jerusalem.

Lazarus, was taken ill. We have no details, but the illness frightened his two sisters so much that they sent word to Jesus – obviously with the thought that Jesus would interrupt his travels to return and heal Lazarus. Jesus, though, seemed almost indifferent to their message. By the time Jesus and his disciples came to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days.

So, when Jesus comes to Lazarus’ tomb, one detects that he is not necessarily a welcome presence. Not only did both sisters confront him with their disappointment, but the crowd also voices their belief that if Jesus had cared more he would have come sooner and thereby averted this tragedy. Yet in the very midst of this disappointment and doubt, Jesus surprises them all, first with his command to remove the stone to Lazarus’ tomb and, second, with his call for Lazarus to come out. And Lazarus does. This is what we call a miracle, but in John’s Gospel it is called a sign – something that reveals the character and commitment of God to God’s people. Interestingly, that miracle, or sign, provokes different reactions. Many of those present come to believe in Jesus. But in the verses that follow todays gospel reading, this same miracle prompts those who oppose him to plot his death.

Isn’t it interesting that even something that would seem as clear-cut as raising someone from the dead is not unambiguous. While some are comforted and spurred to faith by Jesus’ miracle, others are threatened and hardened in their opposition. So, is this always the way it is with God’s activity? Because God’s activity will change us, it will comfort some and threaten others. Even the promise of new life, comes only as good news to those who recognize that the old life is not enough and new life only threatens or upsets those who don’t want to change.

And notice that Jesus invites those around him to participate in the raising of Lazarus. Jesus says: “Unbind him and let him go”. Jesus did not have to issue that command. He might have gone over to Lazarus himself and unwrapped him, then given him a heartfelt and congratulatory smack on the back on his return from the dead. But rather than linger in the limelight of his miracle, Jesus invites those around to get involved, to play a part in seeing this miracle move forward. I think the same is true with us. We are not only called to be witnesses of God’s action in our lives, but also to be changed by what we see and thereby invited into the ongoing reality of what God is doing. God does the miracle, but God also gives us a part to play as it unfolds in our life.

God’s work in our lives never leaves us unchanged and God will accompany us into the unknown future. Or are you standing on the “other side” of the miracle, in awe of what God has done and is doing but not yet drawn in to participate?

The raising of Lazarus is indeed a Big Story. It unfolds in the context of patterns of relationships, choices, habits, and personalities that influence how each character participates in and responds to Lazarus’ raising. Our own lives are built on these same details. We each garb ourselves in routines and practices that carry us through our relationships, our work, our  lives. Those routines and practices influence how we receive and respond to God’s call. We may be swathed in layers of habits that may have once fit us, habits we may once have found beautiful, habits we may yet be attached to long past their usefulness but which now insulate and shroud us from the presence of God.

The season of Lent calls us to reckon with our most entrenched habits as individuals and communities: to sort through them and to recognize that Christ, in all his humanity and all his divinity, has power even over them. This season reminds us that the miraculous and the mundane are intimately intertwined. Let me repeat that….the miraculous and the mundane are intimately intertwined. We are called to wrestle with the very details that shape our lives together, that new life may emerge.

So, in our daily living, what patterns are life-giving and help us notice the presence of God? Which habits keep us bound? What helps us hear the voice of Christ who stands at the threshold between death and life? What will help us choose to come forth, and to help someone else do the same? Are there people who can help with the unbinding?

No bones are too dry. No grief is too deep. No stone at a tomb entrance is too heavy. Resurrection is not a confession. Resurrection is not a theory. Resurrection is not some sort of ambiguous promise. No, resurrection is real. Resurrection is relationship with God. Resurrection is now.

What lies ahead is a sunrise. May you find the presence of God in every detail of your life because Christ is Risen.  Amen.