In the name of the God who lives. Amen.
Imagine a deserted wilderness, an ancient battleground: now desolate, picked over, even the scavengers long fled. It is a wasteland, occupied only by old bones of the once living… It could be Stalingrad, Chancellorsville, or a village in Iraq. It is Israel. Once proud, inheritor of David’s realm, conquered by Joshua, the Promised Land: now desert. The Babylonian army has crushed their hopes – they are in Exile, now, by the rivers of Babylon, and their own land lies discarded, bleak.
What could possibly revive their hopes? What, indeed, but the word of God? The word of Life, which brought forth upon the earth bread, the fruit of toil, all the produce of the garden, all that is, all that we have – Life itself. This is the voice that comes to the prophet Ezekiel.
Breathe – breath the breath of God. And prophesy: and the old bones come to life. Israel returns to the Promised Land. And builds anew. The people return; the land begins to recover, to quicken with new life. Laughter can be heard in the streets, once empty, now full of life, and hope, and light. What could revive the people of God – but the Word of God?
Out of the depths I call – this is the cry of the lost, the abandoned; the desperate soul, in a desert of its own: a prison ward, a hospital cell; a place of abandonment. There is nothing to bargain with.
The soul waits, alone – bereft of any hope … but the original hope, the origin of hope, the Creator and Redeemer and Sanctifier of souls. Breathe on me, the soul cries. Make me live, take me out of this desolate place. And God responds – lifting me beyond myself, into a scene beyond dreams.
Jesus has left Jerusalem, where it is dangerous. Hot. They’re after him, now. And so he has cooled off, gone across the Jordan to a quiet place.
And then the word comes after him – from that beloved village, that home where he is at home, where Martha and Mary and Lazarus are, tragic news, and desperation: Lazarus is dying.
Dare he risk it? Can he make it to his friend’s side, in time, before the cops come and drag him away?
It is not for anything less than the glory of God that he has come, and nothing less will bring him forth, to risk it, to go where certain exposure could take him to his own death. But Lazarus is dying.
He goes quietly. Before he can even get to the village, Martha comes out to greet him – and a crowd follows her.
No entrance through the back door, no slipping in and out – this must happen in full view of the people, of the Jews of Jerusalem: the authorities will hear of it.
Where were you? You could have saved him. I will take you to him.
And then, he is there. He is with us. And he brings more than consolation, more than revival: he brings the word of Life. He is Life, and Resurrection, and in Him the fullness of God is pleased to dwell.
And he says the word – as simple as, let there be light. He says,
Bring him out.
And they do – and the dead walks. The forgotten man lives, and is restored to his home.
This is the resuscitation of a corpse, not the resurrection of the last day. Lazarus is not the first-born of the dead, but the last and most wonderful and most dangerous Sign Jesus performs before the powers of the world crush him and bring him down to his death, to his own place of desolation (and from which he will rise to God’s glory).
For now the glory of God is restoration – to see hope once abandoned live again, to see a beloved brother restored to his sisters.
Soon enough a greater miracle will come – Jesus will be betrayed to his own death, and beyond it will come… (the unexpected morning, the dawn of Easter.)
Jesus performs this sign, this miracle: and the cost is his life. Now he’s torn it – now they will meet in council to dispose of this problem.
And he knows it – he knows it. And this too will be to the glory of God. Because beyond their planning, beyond their imagining, is a scene unimaginable to the eyes of the world-bound: the vision of plenty, of abundance, life in God’s new world, in his very presence.
For beyond death and even now God is present with us. And beyond this life we are present with him, no longer seeing through a glass darkly, but face to face.
This new life, this eternal life in the presence of God, does not wait for death or the second coming: it begins now, as God is present with us, in the midst of us… as he was in the dark valley, of the shadow of death, as he was with Ezekiel in the valley of bones, as he is with the prisoner and the abandoned and the desolate, ...
...as he was with Jesus and Lazarus at the side of the tomb unwrapping the grave clothes, hurry – hurry! As Martha waits to embrace her brother, all hope abandoned now all disbelief exchanged for joy.
Mary waits; she has seen it. And perhaps she sees beyond, too: to a day when she will see another beloved one emerge from the grave.
He is with her. He is her master. He is ours. And she waits – as we do – for the day beyond Good Friday, the day of the resurrection, the day when all hope will be transformed in the joy of Easter morning.
Be with us now, Lord, in the breaking of the bread. Breathe on it, and us, that you may be present with us and we with you. Even now.
Come, Lord, restore, renew, & revive your people. Amen.
May you find in Christ crucified
a strength in times of darkness,
a support in times of weakness,
and the assurance of eternal life,
and the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, rest upon you now,
and remain always with you. Amen.
(adapted from David Adam, Clouds and Glory)
Lent V Year A
David Adam, Clouds and Glory: Prayers for the Church Year: Year A (London: SPCK, 2000)
Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker,
Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year A (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Barbara Crafton, "If Christ Were Here/Hope in the Dry Bones", The Almost Daily eMo, Geranium Farm
Scott M. Lewis, S.J., New Collegeville Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to John and the Johannine Letters (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2005)
Lesslie Newbigin, The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982)
Herbert O'Driscoll, The Word Today: Reflections on the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 2 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1999)
Mary Hinkle Shore, Herman C. Waetjen, Richard Eslinger, Melinda A. Quivik, New Proclamation: Year A, 2007-2008: Advent through Holy Week (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007)