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  • Writer's pictureDiana Wright

A Few Views on Death


5th Sunday in Lent Year A 2 April 2017 "Mortal, can these bones live?" "Out of the depths I cry to you." "To set the mind on the flesh is death" "Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days." OK, so I get the idea that we are talking about death here. Death is always a good topic for Lent, don't you think? After all we start Lent being reminded of our mortality and we end it with the stripping of the alter and the reminder of the Crucifixion. Yet I think this is not about our physical mortality nor even the miracle of the dead being brought back to life. I have seen the dead brought back to life in ER's and in ICU's. Incredible, yes, but something that Jesus did for Lazarus is not the point of the story. There are other kinds of death. I have seen people die of grief after the loss of a loved one. I have seen people wither away from bitterness and anger so that they become no more than a pile of dry bones, even if they still walk and talk. I have known people who sank so far into the depths of depression that suicide seemed the only way out. We easily misuse John's Gospel if we hone in on only the miracle of a physical resurrection of a man dead four days. This is a story about Jesus and about us and is about our own resurrection through Jesus the Christ. Rowan Williams has written a book entitled The Sign and the Sacrifice: The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection He highlights four points about the resurrection 1. The end has begun. We believe that the resurrection of Jesus ushered in an entirely new age. For you and for me it does not mean that we sit around and wait for something to happen or that the rapture is what it is all about but that we believe that God has entered the world and our lives in a new and final way. The future is here and now. The community of God and humanity is being formed as we speak. The dry bones are being knit together again and Lazarus has reason to come from the tomb. We are joining with God in the creation of that new world. 2. Jesus without limits. The Christ we worship has, by his resurrection, been set free from any limits. He can never die again. If we are to be part of that coming community, we also must be set free from death and from the fear of death. We must be free to act. Lazarus saw death and, through Jesus, was made alive again. Yes, he will die again but death had no fear for Lazarus. We, too, die in so many ways and, when we give ourselves over, over, to a belief in the Son, we will live without fear. I think that is the real meaning of John 3:16 and the reality of our confession of faith. Wherever we are in the world, whatever we do, Jesus is there with us. The Revival we are holding in April is a reminder and a way to renew that promise we made and that God makes to us. Jesus is free; come and be free as well!! Had muscle and flesh to those bones, God says to Ezekiel. 3. The bridge between God and humanity. In the book of Hebrews Jesus is described as a mediator and great high priest. This is not language to say we can not approach God but that Jesus has given us a way to see the mystery of God and to live with God in the world. Jesus knows and loves the Creator and knows and loves each one of us. I believe the words of one of our hymns says “show us the way to the father” and nothing could be more telling of the work of Jesus for all of us. Lazarus came out of the tomb and knew that Jesus was the only one who could lead him to God. More than that, after the resurrection we now share the same space as Jesus and literally are the body of Christ, just as we call ourselves. Have you ever thought about being the body of Christ and being his identity in the world? Like Lazarus we have a new body and for us death should hold no fear; we walk in Christ and in relation to God through him. 4. Jesus and God are one. We identify God by the resurrection of Jesus and they are now one. The world said no to Jesus and God said no to the world. Not you or I, but the world as it operates with despots and dictators and politics and all kinds of so called authorities. There is and should be no higher authority than that of God. It is hard to remember when we are so bound in the world and in the affairs of governments.

Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Ezekiel not only witnessed but participated in the bringing of life back to the bones that had been enfleshed. First we are called in to new life and then called to be witnesses to bring others to new life. Maybe we are like Thomas, the fatalist who said he would follow Jesus back to Bethany even though he was sure he would die. Sometimes we hang on with no more than a thread of belief and a lot of fatalism. Perhaps we are like Martha and Mary who understand something about the relationship of Jesus to the Creator but don’t yet fully believe or understand that relationship, yet have no doubt Jesus could do whatever needed to be done. Are we stuck at a place like Mary and Martha that day, knowing part of the truth but not yet understanding the full meaning of Jesus’ life and work? Ah, but then there is Lazarus, who never makes one theological claim during the entire Gospel reading. I think, perhaps, we are all like Lazarus and will never be fully alive until we come to the living Christ. This story is sung as a spiritual in the African American tradition, with recordings by Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen. Here is has become a song of subversion against the oppression of slavery and Jim Crow. But more than a song of subversion it is a song of hope for all of us and, while I do not know about you, I need a lot of hope these days. It ends with these words:

Now Mary had a brother named Lazarus One day when Jesus was praying to the masses Lazarus passed away. Mary she lost faith She got sick at the heart She didn't believe Jesus came back He told Mary, "Don't you weep... 'cause I can fix it!"

He said Lazarus, "Rise up and walk with te livig" And lazarus rose up ... O what a miracle Jesus told Mary, "You don't have to weep No you don't have to moan!" Oh, Mary, don't you weep Tell Martha not to moan


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