Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The fifth Sunday in Lent: Resuscitation or resurrection


Yesterday, as we went about our work, we were entranced by the sound of rehearsals for the CD release party of Lullabies for Falling  Empires, with an 11 piece orchestra and electronics. (

The steps are quiet when I arrive today. But I still have to sweep up. Set up. Get the elements for communion.

It’s the last Sunday in Lent. What’s on the agenda for today is resuscitation vs. resurrection. So we open with the classic dry bones story from Ezekiel 37: 1-14. What the prophet is talking about in this valley of dry bones is of course a community. A community that has nothing g left but very dry bone. Totally without life. They can only com to life gin when the spirit breathe breath inti them, like the breath that blew over the water on the very first day  of creation. And that’s what THe spirit does and breath by breath, the bones come back to life again. The question of course is the one that is aways haunting us, Mortal, can these bones live? The challenge of course is to believe that they can.

Of course, we follow the reading with the old song we remember from childhood, that part Bible lesson, part anatomy lesson dry bones…
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones,
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Now hear the word of the Lord.

Romans 8: 6-11, is another Pauline trope on body and spirit winding up with a resurrection affirmation:
. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
We wind up doing the Gospel, John 11: 1-45 the story of Lazarus, in a reader's theatre style, from  a new translation called the Voice. (
There are of course, lot of issues to deal with here…
We start by discussing resuscitation vs. resurrection. Resuscitation takes another human. (AND their breath?) and the person lives to ultimately die. Resurrection, on the other hand, is by spirit and is forever.
* a reference to Mary’s anointing of Jesus, noting that this is not Mary Magdalene
*Jesus apparently delaying his return, just so Lazarus would actually be dead.
* Jesus makes another daylight/nighttime darkness metaphor (v.9)continuing the theme we have been following in Lent of not hiding, of bringing things out in the open.
* Jesus plays around with sleep/death imagery, of course confusing the disciples. And when he explains it, they’re sure he’s heading to his death and impulsively say 16 Let’s go so we can die with Him.
* There’s a whole back and forth with Martha and Mary about resurrection with Martha expressing the traditional view of her time about resurrection  at the end of time and Jesus claiming to be the resurrection. It ends with Mary making this statement :
if only You had been here, my brother would still be alive.

If only…,if only…..How many if only’s are there in our lives?

* Jesus waits until the fourth day. That’s to make sure that Lazarus is good and dead. People would go to the tomb to visit on the third day, just in case, but by the fourth day, no question.

* Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the Bible. Favorite of kids forced to memorize a verse of the Bible. But why did Jesus weep? Of course, some always go to the human side, Jesus feeling the pain of others, his own sense of loss. But why, especially if he knows he’s going to raise him up again? On this, we seem to agree with what my clergy colleague friends said last Wednesday…Jesus is weeping for himself. The road he knows he must now travel. Where it will lead. A Garden of Gethsemane moment. This raising of Lazarus will begin the final conflict that can only end in crucifixion.

* There is a heavy stone sealing the grave, as there will be for Jesus. As Jesus commands the stone be rolled away, Martha is seriously concerned about the likely stench that will follow.

* The raising of Lazarus is dramatic. Jesus calls to him in a loud voice, Come Out!(41) And he comes out, still wrapped in grave clothes. This conjures up all kinds of images. The first sermon I remember about this, when I was an intern at St.Paul’s Episcopal in New Haven, the Vicar Ike Miller remembered the movie the Mummy, the wrapped up figure wobbling out. If he’s been in there for 4 days, already beginning to decompose, you wind up with a Walking Dead kind of image. Stench and all. The Jesus has to call out, Unbind him, set him free. It takes a village to unbind someone.

* And then look at it from Lazarus’ perspective. There’s that powerful scene in Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ when you see this from inside the tomb, through Lazarus’ eyes. It must be terrifying to force your eyes to see the light again, to give up the safety and quiet of the grave to go back out to the noise of the street. And what will life be like now?   Can he really go back? To live for any amount of time only to die again?                                                                                

* This is not the Lazarus of the story of the Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16: 19-31. Nor San Lazaro.

* In 1978, my seminary friend Chris was denied ordination as he would be for 30 years because of his orientation. He began a project fro LGBT people in West Hollywood called the Lazarus Project, based on Jesus’ call to come out of the grave, and that not coming out is a from of death.  It was also the purpose of that ministry to unbind people, to free them to walk the earth as fully themselves again, or fro the first time. (
   This raises questions for us. What binds us up? Which grave are we afraid to come out from? How can we help unbind one another?

In the end, I suppose Lazarus was resuscitated more than resurrected. He will ultimately die again. We, who are still to die, however, have our own bindings, hidings. To come out for us is to be born again, or for perhaps the first time , to be fully alive. May this season help us find that courage. And may we help unbind one another.

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