Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 29 March 2020.
• Old Testament: Ezekiel 37: 1-14 (The valley of bones: Can these bones live?)
• Epistle: Romans 8: 6-11 (To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace)
• Gospel: John 11: 1-45 (The sickness and death Lazarus – Jesus delayed)
We have all been aware of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and how it has forced us to stay indoors. For many, that sense of not being free to go in and out at will is bad enough, but for many others it is that silent and hidden threat of death that is deeply unsettling.
Death is all very well in fiction and on film and television, but when it becomes personal ad possibly near at hand that fears tend to grow.
For those of us who are moving on in years there are the questions of how far the medical profession will keep us alive and how far resources should be diverted from the active and earning to the retired and weakening.
And so these anxieties can feed on themselves.
But our lessons lead us in a different direction.
The Ezekiel passage challenges us: is life an accident of biology and evolution or is it in the providence and gift of God?
Does it come by circumstance or is it something given to us by God who desires us to live it, enjoy it, prosper in it, and edify others though it?
Is life a historic mistake or is it a portal for something even more glorious?
In short: Man, Woman, Boy, Girl – can these bones live? May they live? Shall they live again?
And Ezekiel said, O Lord, only You can say.
And so God brought Ezekiel into His plan. Let the dry bone live, the bones long dead and dried by the sun and wind, stripped of all purpose and meaning.
Let them come together again, for a new purpose and vision. Let them live again with new power and in a new kind of Spirit. Let them be filled again with the breath of God, the same breath that God gave to Adam to bring him also to life.
To a people distressed and despairing God had a new word. The desert of ruin and desolation would be renewed with life and fertility.
And then there is the strange story of how Jesus let His friend Lazarus die, and delayed going to his aid and comfort. To the disciples this was impenetrable, opaque.
But Jesus had something in mind. In the very place of despair and defeat, there would be a new kind of victory and a new kind of promise.
Jesus allowed Lazarus to die so that He could show the people something. They would see His authority over death itself. The land already had healers and teachers.
And yes, Elijah and Elisha had both raised the dead to life. But this was going to be something else. By resting in the sepulchre for three days, Lazarus was thought to be beyond recall, but this was the very point that Jesus can come to overrule.
Not only that but Lazarus would also point to the sojourn of Jesus among the dead, this time with none but God to raise Him up.
At a time when cynicism was alive and well in the land, Jesus came with something new. ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, shall live. Do you believe this?’
This was a challenge to move from accepting a theory or doctrine of theology to a personal commitment. It was a challenge to enter the life of Jesus in a new way, and to trust Him more radically than ever before.
It is one thing to believe in the church as an organization, with buildings and career structures and formulae of faith.
But it is another to believe in Jesus as being more vital than life itself, more full of the power and glory of God than any amount of liturgy or academic study.
The challenge was to receive a new life in Jesus that does not die off, it does not fall away and it does not grow old or weary.
It certainly does not fall prey to the fears of the age, no matter how pressing or dramatic. It withstands any war, any pestilence and any persecution.
So, Jesus said ‘I am the resurrection and the life … do you believe this?’