a sermon, based on John 11.1-45, Romans 8.6-11, and Ezekiel 37.1-14, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 5th Sunday in Lent, April 2, 2017
Lazarus is sick. His sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus.
At this point in John’s gospel about the marvelously magnanimous and miraculous Messiah, if I were reading it for the first time, to the question, “What would Jesus do?” I would expect him to rush to Bethany. But what does Jesus do? He delays! Two days! Then goes to Bethany, arriving after Lazarus has been in the grave four days, which is a biblical way of saying Lazarus is really dead! (Martha, later, speaks of the stench of her brother’s decaying body, which the King James Version renders more dramatically, “He stinketh!”)
The disconsolate sisters express their disappointment, “Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus cries at the grave of his friend. Some bystanders say sympathetically, “He really loved Lazarus” and others, more skeptically, “Why couldn’t, why didn’t he save Lazarus?”
Jesus testifies that his love for Lazarus is a power greater than death. To Martha’s declaration of belief in the resurrection from the dead, Jesus responds with this momentous word, “I am resurrection!”
This word, the opening exhortation of our burial rite, expresses the heart of our Christian theology: Yes, we die, yet, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have eternal life.
Eternal life. Often understood as life after death, life beyond the grave, particularly in an exalted tranquil state of existence. Yet I say to you that eternal life is not only about dying with the hope that we will rise again like Lazarus, like Jesus on some future, everlasting tomorrow to dwell with God, but also to live with God today! When Jesus says, “I am resurrection and I am life,” he means now!
Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God – God’s life, the realm of God’s being and doing, God’s unconditional love and justice for all – is at hand. Available today! Not only did Jesus come teaching, he came reaching out with arms of love to all in acts of justice for all.
This Jesus says, “I am resurrection and I am life” today!
This Jesus came to Bethany and comes to Laurens today! This Jesus comforted Mary and Martha and comforts us today!
This Jesus raised Lazarus and raises us today!
This Jesus loves us justly and just loves us today!
This Jesus lived and died and rose again to call us not merely to worship him, saying, “Lord, Lord,” but to follow and serve him as people of love and justice today!
As Christians, eternal life is not merely a matter of living and dying, then being raised from death to live forever. Eternal life is living life now filled with God’s Spirit.
So Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again!”
So Paul wrote to the Romans, “The Spirit is life…and the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
So God set Ezekiel down in the valley of dry bones. When Ezekiel prophesied to the bones, they came together – bone and sinew and flesh – but there was no life until God sent ruach, wind, breath, Spirit!
God’s Spirit gives life. Spirit-filled life is God’s life. God’s life is eternal life. Therefore, we don’t have to wait until tomorrow on that “great gittin’ up mornin’” in heaven! We have eternal life today!
So, may this song be our daily prayer:
Breathe on (us), breath of God,
fill (us) with life anew,
that (we) may love what Thou dost love
and do what Thou wouldst do!
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on (us).
Melt (us), mold (us), fill (us), use (us).
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on (us)!
Raising of Lazarus, Alessandro Magnasco (1715-1740), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Interview between Jesus and Nicodemus (Entretien de Jésus et de Nicodème) (1886), James Tissot (1836-1902)
The vision of the valley of dry bones (1866), Gustav Doré (1832-1883). Note: Doré depicts the resurrections of the dead in various stages of the reconstitution or re-membering of their bone, sinew, and flesh; in the foreground, skeletal remains and in the background, on the left, fully enfleshed figures. Note also Ezekiel silhouetted against the clouds.
 According to an ancient Jewish belief, the soul stays near the body for three days after a person’s death, then departs, never to return to the body.
 I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord and I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord (The Burial of the Dead, Rite One and Rite Two, respectively, The Book of Common Prayer, pages 469 and 491).
 See Matthew 4.17 and Mark 1.15
 Here, I refer to Matthew 7.21: Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
 John 3.7
 A reference to the rousing Negro spiritual, In Dat Great Gittin’ Up Mornin’
 From the hymn, Breathe on me, Breath of God, verse 1; words by Edwin Hatch (1835-1889); my alterations
 From the hymn, Spirit of the Living God; words by Daniel Iverson (1890-1977); my alterations