Reflection 17th March Lent 5: John 11: 38-57

Jesus Raises Lazarus.

Preacher: Emily Hayes

Church Newsletter 031724

So today’s reading follows directly on from last week’s reading. Most of us know the story but today’s passage makes no sense without it and so a quick little recap.


The religious leaders and authorities are trying to arrest Jesus due to his growing popularity and so he heads out across the Jordan to where John had been baptising people. While there he gets news that his friend Lazarus has died.


After waiting two days Jesus heads to Bethany just outside Jerusalem to where Lazarus has been buried.


He is greeted by Lazarus grieving sister Martha who tells him, “if you had been here my brother would not have died.” To which he responds, “your brother will rise again.”


Martha then tells him that she knows her brother will rise in the resurrection of the last days but clearly she is not expecting him to rise again at this time, on this earth. To which Jesus, ever bewildering says, “I am the resurrection and life,” and asks her, “do you believe this.” And she says, “yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world.”


In the other gospels it is Peter who first declares this belief and for it he becomes the rock, the first pope on which the church is built. In John’s gospel it is Martha.


Jesus then goes to Lazarus tomb. And there he wept. Despite his promise that Lazarus will rise again, Jesus wept. And last week we reflected deeply on this. I won’t go over all that again now, but if you missed it perhaps you may like to look up this reflection on our website because I do think it is important not to skip this part of the story. To not jump to resurrection without going through the grief of death. When Jesus wept, he legitimized human grief, perhaps even showed us the need for it.


This is also what the journey of Lent is about, journeying with Jesus to and through the cross, not just jumping to Easter Sunday.


We give up food or something else not because the church has some kind of weird relationship with food but because we have come to recognise that the physical experience of wanting something that we cannot have, is formative, it helps us when real challenges arise, especially in a culture that forms us to believe that any struggle, any unmet desire is an aberration.


I said last week that when I planned this series back in January and decided to include John chapter 11 over these two weeks before Palm Sunday I did not know that we would be reflecting on Lazarus death and Jesus tears the same week of David Hewitt’s funeral.


I also did not know that the following week when we would be reading about the raising of Lazarus, would be Harvey’s 1st birthday and his dedication and thanksgiving service.


But how right these readings have been for us at this time.


As the church, we are formed in a liturgical tradition in which birth, life, death and resurrection are cyclical occurrences.


As a minister it is my absolute privilege and joy to share these times with people.


Here in this place we also see it all around us. I have put up this picture before but I just love how often in this desert land we so often see a tree that has fallen over and died and yet new trees spring forth from it.


This picture, along with this reading and this dedication have reminded me at this time that God is about life. He is the one who creates life, transforms life, restores life.


Somewhat ironically, this life restoring event is the event that precipitates Jesus own death. The religious leaders who have been growing increasingly concerned about him and hostile towards him now decide that the time has come to kill him. There is no doubt that holding onto their own power is part of their motivation. But as is often the case with most of us our motivations are mixed. Protecting their people, their culture, their religion and way of life was also part of it. They were right to be afraid of the Romans.


However, they had misunderstood Jesus. He was not in fact planning a violent uprising against the Roman Empire. While, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, certainly offers a critique of the Roman Empire and all Empires before and since, it was also about something more than that, something more than any of us can really understand or explain. It is something Martha glimpsed though when she said, “yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world.”


Regulars here will know that every year in the tradition of the desert mothers and fathers I ask for a word, a word to guide my year and as many know my word for this year is new life. It came from Revelation 21:5 – See I am making everything new.”


This story is about new life.


When this reading comes up in the lectionary it is paired with Ezekial 37, “the valley of the dry bones.”


Of course there is a lot going on in this town and in the world right now that feels and looks like dry bones. I sometimes feel like dry bones. But this year with this word as my guide I am choosing to pay more attention to the new life. It never seems to happen at the top but springs from the ground. Like this week I was part of a small group of Arrernte and non Arrernte people painting a map of this town. As we discussed the places that would make it on the map we told stories about those places and why they were important. There were so many beautiful stories of cross cultural encounter despite difference.


And of course in the actual new life of Harvey and Elisha and Wollemi in this past year.


Anyway, I love this reading so much and so I am going to finish with it. It is titled “the valley of the dry bones,’ but it is not about dry bones, it is about tendons, flesh and breath, the things of life.

“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”


I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”


Then he said, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”


So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.


Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet.”


And now let us sing, a song chosen by Fi and Mike as we enter into the official dedication part of this service. Like our readings this song is about the new and beautiful things God brings out of dry and dusty places.





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