Sermon for 5th Sunday in Lent - April 2 2017

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A
April 2, 2016
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

The reading from Ezekiel is set during the Babylonian exile, some 2800 years ago.  You may remember that the prophet Jeremiah was the one who foretold the exile, which was brought about by disloyal king and the mandates of empire.  Jeremiah was imprisoned by the Jerusalem authorities, but escaped and made his way to Egypt; he never went to Babylon.

The exiles in Babylon were in despair – we have one of the texts from that time in the Psalms[1].

1          By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *

    when we remembered you, O Zion.

 

2          As for our harps, we hung them up *

    on the trees in the midst of that land.

 

3          For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,

and our oppressors called for mirth: *

    "Sing us one of the songs of Zion."

 

4          How shall we sing the LORD'S song *

    upon an alien soil?

 

They felt completely lost and abandoned and forsaken.  One might say, metaphorically, that they felt their bones were lying in a desert, turning to dust…  and that’s exactly what Ezekiel described in his vision.  Bones in the desert, dry and hot as only the deep desert can be.  Exiles of empire rarely return home – they knew that those who were taken away by the Assyrians from the Northern Kingdom disappeared – such that nearly 3000 years later, we still are familiar with the phrase “the ten lost tribes of Israel,” and some still try to find out what became of them.

Retired priest James Ligget, of Texas, wrote:  “Israel was dead. Never in the history of mankind had, or has, a nation (or a faith) so defeated and so scattered ever been rebuilt. Ezekiel knew that, the Babylonians knew that, everybody knew that. Death ruled Israel when Ezekiel preached, and death ruled supreme.”[2]

Ezekiel was the prophet of exile.  He it was who taught the people what they needed to know and do in order to survive in exile, to find life in the valley of dark despair and death.

God used Ezekiel to revive them, to take their death and to make life again – to re-member their bones, their history, their identity, their lives, and their hope.

But God remembered these exiles of Babylon.  Ezekiel recounts his vision in which God re-membered the people who believed themselves dead, and gave them life. 

This is a story of powerful metaphor – new life rising from the grave, a puff of the Spirit in still air, Living Water in the desert.

It’s a story meant to be taken as metaphor…and as a promise.  Even in their exile, they ARE, and they are not forgotten, but sustained.  So, as Ezekiel says elsewhere: take wives, have families, live in the city, do good for the city, for your lives depend on that.

After many years, they returned – as a people, a community, knowing who they were – with new stories of creation and rescue, armed with a deeper understanding of God’s providence, with descendants, with a faith founded on the hard rocks of experience and trial and suffering, with rejoicing and song, with the knowledge that God had seen them through, had given them the strength and the hope and the vision to carry on, with the knowledge that God had re-membered them.

In death, they had found life.

And it’s a similar story with the raising of Lazarus.  It, too, is more than a story of healing; it is a metaphor for rebirth and renewal. Ezekiel taught the exiles that the voice of God gives life.

John teaches his followers that the voice of the Son of Man, the Word of God, restores life also.

And it’s not just about community – it’s about the individual person, as well.  A person with a unique particularity, a story, a family, a home, with friends and relations – a person with a name, called from death to life by the voice of his friend, who is also “I AM.”

In Ezekiel, and the people of Judah, I AM was the God who is life, who gives life, who restores life, who re-members his people.

For Lazarus, Mary and Martha, I AM is their friend and teacher, Jesus, who gives life, who restores life, who calls forth the dead, who opens the door between death and life.

Lazarus was, like the exile of Babylon, returned to family and community, who removed the cloths that bound his earthly body, now restored.

Lazarus is, of course, obviously also a metaphor in that he “pre-figures’ Jesus’ own resurrection – which required no human hands to unbind, and who risen life is more than earthly.

His own friends didn’t even recognize him at first, until his VOICE speaks SIGHT, just as it did with the man born blind, just as it did with the woman at the well, just as it did for Lazarus.

Jesus is the voice – the spoken word of God.  Through him all creation is born, and through him the dead are raised into eternal life.

We now, today, may forget we live simultaneously in two kingdoms, two realms:

  • The day to day, the mundane, the ordinary, and
  • The eternal that the mundane frequently masks, the sacred nature of creation and of one another and of ourselves.

But Jesus calls that forth, reminds us, re-members us, so that we re-member his promise, his presence, and our hope: here, whatever our circumstances; now… and always, eternally, restored, renewed, refreshed, and re-membered.

 

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