Fifth Sunday of Lent March 28/29, 2020


First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Second Reading: Romans 8:6-11
Gospel: John 11:1-45

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death.  Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and forever.  Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

Christ, the Life of All the Living – ELW #339

Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart – ELW #750

Tree of Life and Awesome Mystery – ELW #334

Restore in Us, O God – ELW #328

What Wondrous Love Is This – ELW #666

Reflection on John 11:1-45

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

Today’s story is one of the more well-known stories from scripture.  Jesus and his disciples get word that their friend, Lazarus, is ill.  When they arrive in Lazarus’s hometown, they learn that Lazarus has already died.  Jesus is approached by Lazarus’s sisters, one at a time, and their words are identical: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v21 and 32) We don’t know their tone of voice so we don’t know if this was an accusation or confession, but we do know the sisters believed that Jesus could have done something about their brother’s death.

Jesus asks to be shown where Lazarus is buried, he sees the crowd weeping, and he too begins to weep.  But it’s not a solitary tear rolling down his cheek.  It is a deep, visceral, body shaking weeping.[1]  Jesus is moved when he sees the grief and pain of the sisters and of those in the crowd.

The stone door to the tomb is removed.  Jesus calls Lazarus to come out and instructs the community to unbind him from his burial cloths – to release Lazarus from all that held him to death.  

This is the Gospel reading for the last Sunday in Lent.  Next Sunday we will celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but today Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  It is the turning point in John’s Gospel because this is the final straw.  Jesus has been healing, loving, protecting, and including those whom society (and those in authority) had deemed not worth saving.  When Jesus raises Lazarus, he has gone too far.  It is at this point where those in positions of power begin the plot to kill Jesus.

Today we get a glimpse of Good Friday because our focus shifts to Jerusalem, but we also get a glimpse of Easter because we see an empty tomb.  Unlike Lazarus, who is still shrouded in death, Jesus will leave his burial clothes behind.  But we’re not there just yet…

When preparing for today’s reflection, I was amazed to see what was assigned for the first reading: Ezekiel’s vision of a valley full of dry bones.  I wrote a meditation last Monday on this very prophetic vision.  I’m not clever enough for this coincidence to be intentional, but apparently the Holy Spirit is clever enough for the both of us.

Ezekiel and his fellow Israelites have been exiled, forcibly removed from their homes and homeland of Israel, and Ezekiel, while living in unknown territory, receives visions from God.  In one, he sees a valley full of bones and they have been there so long they have dried out.  God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, calling for them to be rejoined.  The bones are gathered, sinews and flesh come upon them, but they are not alive until the Spirit – the breath of God – enters them and reanimates them.  For Ezekiel to receive this vision while living in exile, it meant that God had to be with them in exile.[2]  You can’t receive visions from God if God is not with you.  God had not abandoned them in their time of separation and suffering.

These two readings are perfect for us right now.  Like Ezekiel’s dry bones, we are physically separated from one another and are feeling a deep sense of longing to be together again.  Like Lazarus, we are bound and trapped in tombs of fear, powerlessness, and isolation.  We’re afraid for our health and the health of those whom we love.  We don’t know what’s going to happen later today, much less days and weeks from now.  Some of us have had our wages decreased or lost our jobs completely.  Our financial investments have drastically lost their value.  We are balancing full-time work loads while, simultaneously, leading curriculum for our children.  We are stressed, feel like we have no control, and we’re stuck in this tomb of fear and detachment.  This is only in addition to the tombs in which we found ourselves a few weeks ago – the tombs of marital strife, cancer, addiction, infertility, and depression.

And these texts are perfect for us today.  Not only are the metaphors and images spot on, so is the Good news.

Today we are given two stories about God caring for individuals and communities, and those communities coming back to life.  Stories about God breathing life into what felt like a dead end and lost cause.  Stories about God being big enough to handle our big emotions.  Stories of God’s promise of life being stronger than death, of God’s hope being greater than any defeat, of God’s compassion being more powerful than isolation and fear, of God’s presence not being able to be stopped.

God knew that Ezekiel’s vision of detached, dry bones and Lazarus’s empty tomb wouldn’t be the end of the story, but God never diminished or minimized or belittled the very real pain and struggle in which the people were living.  God saw their hurt, entered into it with them, honored it, and stayed with them until the load became lighter.

Even though we are separated, isolated, and shrouded with uncertainty, God will call our community back together.  Even though Good Friday is real, Mary Magdalene and the disciples will find burial cloths just like Lazarus’s.  But this time the cloths will be discarded in the tomb because Jesus will not be held back by death.  Jesus will not be deterred from being with us.  Jesus will not let anything stop him from keeping his promise to always be with us.  Jesus will not let dry bones or tombs get the last word.  Thanks be to God.

[1] Christine S. McNeal, “John 11:1-45, The Resurrection of Lazarus” (paper presented in the course Preaching the Gospel of John: Abundant Life as a Vision for Christian Community at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, IL, October 19, 2011), 6.

[2] Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 387.

Let Us Pray

God of life, be with us in this time of isolation, fear, and uncertainty.  Reveal to us new and creative ways that we can help unbind people from what holds them in their tombs.  Show us how we can be connected in the midst of separation.  Thank you for the promise of your Spirit – the promise that you will draw us together again, reanimate our lives, and call us from our tombs.  In your Son’s holy and gracious name we pray, Amen.