Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wednesday of Judica (Lent 5)

2 March 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA Text: John 11:1-45 (Ezek 37:1-14, Rom 8:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters, we are in the fifth week of Lent. Five weeks of fasting, of self-denial, of readings that pound us with the law. Five weeks of somber hymns and small changes to our liturgy to make it more serious and less joyful.

Our friends and family members up north have a similar experience with winter. This time of year is dreary. People are tired of cold and snow. They are weary of heavy coats and walking in slush. They eagerly await a glimpse of spring. And then, in His mercy, the Lord provides green shoots from bulbs, a warm day here and there, and the occasional sight of a robin to remind everyone that the dark days of winter are coming to an end. Those little previews of spring lift spirits and restore a sense of joyfulness as creation prepares to come back to life again.

Our readings for this fifth Wednesday in Lent are a similar peek into future, more joyful times that are both just around the corner and in eternity. Even as we still must endure Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, we are given a little glimpse into the resurrection that is to come – both our Lord’s Easter revivification, as well as our own restorations to a life that will have no end.

Lazarus was sick. Sickness can come and go, but at some point, sickness always leads to death. Even this friend of Jesus was not exempt from Eden’s curse, that he, as all men, would die. When our Lord proclaims: “This sickness is not unto death,” people assume that he would simply get better. Instead, Lazarus dies.

And when our Lord describes Lazarus as asleep, His disciples misunderstand Him, thinking Lazarus was simply enjoying a good forty winks to help make him better.

When Mary and Martha greet our Lord, they grant that Jesus is the Lord of life and death, but seemingly only when He is physically present, both of them confessing that their brother would not have died had Jesus been there.

And when our Lord proclaims: “Your brother will rise again,” Martha misunderstands Him as referring to a long-distant day of resurrection, instead of that very day.

In the midst of death, there is misunderstanding all around. And in the words of the ancient hymn: “Media vita in morte sumus” – “In the very midst of life/ Snares of death surround us.”

Death is so repugnant and repulsive, it drives our Lord Himself to tears. Death brings about mourning, feelings of loss and helplessness, and even a stench. Death is so vile that we segregate dead bodies in tombs, sealed up by stones or covered in dirt. But death was not to have the final word with Lazarus. “Lazarus, come forth!” was the simple command from the lips of God. Lazarus’s dead flesh had no choice but to obey this divine call. He was in a very real sense, born again. Even in his helpless state of death, Lazarus rises, still in His graveclothes. In this case, “In the very midst of death, the hope of life surrounds us.” Mary and Martha are given a glimpse into a future day at a future grave, when they would, for the second time in their lives, witness a revivified corpse that has left the tomb.

Even in the midst of Lent, the joy of Easter surrounds us. Like Mary and Martha, we too enjoy a glimpse into Easter, our own glimpse into future joy and eternal life. Like the green blade of the Easter lily emerging from a dead, snow-covered ground, today’s Gospel account of the resurrection of Lazarus is just a taste of the eternal Easter joy of life to come.

In the Nicene Creed, week in and week out, whether in the season of Lent or Easter, we confess “I look for [in the Latin: “I expect”] the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” In the Apostles Creed, we make a similar confession: “I believe in the… resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

We cling to the vision of Ezekiel, in which the prophet watches with utter amazement as a valley full of dry, rotting bones clink and clatter together before his eyes, grow flesh and skin, walk upright, and take a breath of air. The Spirit of God revivifies them, these “slain” whose “hope is lost.” For thus says the Lord: “Behold, O my people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves…. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live.”

From the very midst of death, the dry bones are summoned to life – again from the Word of God as spoken by a prophet. It is the Word of God, the command of the Creator, that beckons the dead remains to come back to life again.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” says the Lord. “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”

This is the Christian life St. Paul refers to: “If Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

“Son of man, can these bones live?” “O Lord God, you know.”

And so here we find ourselves, in the very midst of life, of mortal life, of life that is surrounded by sin, death and decay. Here we find ourselves in the dead winter of Lent awaiting a glimpse of eternity. And in His mercy, the Lord Himself gives us this peek into Easter and our own resurrections.

Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won!
Death no longer can appall me.
Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done!
From the grave will Christ recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence.
This shall be my confidence. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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