Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Linglestown, Pennsylvania, USA
Let us pray: God our creator, through whose providing care we enjoy all goodness and life, turn our eyes to your mercy in this time of confusion and loss. Comfort this nation and those who are struggling with the Covid-19 virus. Be with our health care workers who are on the front line in this battle against the virus. Be with our elected officials so that they are working to assist all people in this nation and around the world. Shine your light on those whose only companion is darkness and teach us all so to number our days that we may apply our hearts to your wisdom; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
It has been troubling for me not to be able to gather and worship with all of you. I feel like something is missing for sure as do many of you. But we gather together with our Lord each time we pause to pray and right now prayer is the key to our lives in Christ. I have struggled with what words I should speak at this time. It is difficult for sure to know what to say since we are not together and each one of you is dealing with your current situation as best as you can in your own way. So this week again I turn to the words from our Psalm assigned for the Fifth Sunday in Lent for year A in the lectionary.
Psalm 130 begins with, "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord." There are so many people who are doing just that. In these uncertain times, we struggle to keep ourselves tuned to life other than what seems to be dictated by the virus. The Psalm is a prayer for help by one who seeks God's forgiveness and favor. But I hear those opening words and look to us as we cry out for this virus to go away so that we can restore our lives to where they were before this all began.
The psalmist begins with a plea for God to hear the prayer, "Lord, hear my voice! Let you ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!" Then the psalmist moves to trusting in God's forgiveness and eager expectation that it will be granted in verses 3-6. There is hopeful expectation that can be found in the use of the words wait and watch. The Psalmist waits, with more intense expectation "Than those who watch for the morning." At the time of the writing of the Psalm, sentinels often stood guard on city walls, as did soldiers in camps during times of war, watch in the darkness for danger and waiting expectantly for the safety that daylight brought.
There may also be an allusion here that it was thought that God's help often came in the early morning after a night of praying and waiting. We are living in a different time right now and we can find enough darkness around us but as people of faith we too know that it is in God's hands and we have to trust that God is present with all of us as we struggle with the whole situation. God is in our midst daily and after the darkness comes the light of day. We do cry out of the depths of our despair and we pray for God to hear our pleas. Just as we heard from Psalm 23 last week, "Even though we walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me." The darkness will not overcome the light and that is where we need to find our hope in this difficult time. People all over the world are crying out of the depths right now and it is difficult at times to find the light but it is there in front of us.
There are many heroes in the midst of this pandemic. I look to all of the medical communities all around the world who are tirelessly working to save lives and to comfort those who are suffering. Some of them have been diagnosed with the disease and a few of them have passed away because of the disease. But they are still fighting forward and they are crying out of the depths as much or more than we may be doing.
We find in the first reading from Ezekiel and the Gospel of John things that command our attention. We have a close friend nearing death and the dry bones of a nation before us. In Ezekiel we have an allegory of Israel in exile after Jerusalem was destroyed. God is calling the people back to their land through the Prophet Ezekiel. I find that the paring of these passages today to be very fitting as they point to each other as hope coming because of God's work among them and us.
It is no accident that the raising of Lazarus is paired with the reading from Ezekiel. Jesus' relationship with death is mirrored in Ezekiel's story. Both narratives reveal God's power. When we are grieving, weary, and lacking hope, it may feel like we are gazing on a valley full of bones. A merciful God whose power is infinite, however, creates hope just when it is needed.
Jesus sees beyond death, and with that same God-given vision, Ezekiel sees the bones coming to life again. Jesus, the prophet, who is hounded throughout his ministry of teaching and healing and caring for the people, shows us a deeper understanding of God's presence among us. The prophet Ezekiel, like Jesus, was not admired by people in general. But he is guided by God's hand and the spirit of the Lord into the place of grieving, that dusty valley where everything is desolation, the bones of God's beloved Israel, the lifeless remains of a ruined nation. He is given a vision painted in stark terms with dry bones and the assumption that all is lost.
We know that place in our lives where we may think that all is lost. It is at this time that we hear about death all around this virus. People feel lost and fear what is going to happen and is it going to happen to me. Yes, we sadly know that place of dry bones, but we often do not recognize it as inhabited by the spirit and the hand of God. It is God who calls for the bones to come to life. It is God who calls for "the breath to come from the four winds and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." The Prophet then tells us that the house of Israel says, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut of completely." But that is not God's way and it is in those bones coming alive that Israel now has hope in their return to their homes.
Jesus knew the presence of God's power in that place of grief, and his word of command is the province of utter confidence that "nothing is impossible with God." Jesus stands outside Lazarus' tomb in the place of grieving. It is the word of the Lord that brings life out of death, in the stories of the dry bones and of Lazarus. The Lord speaks and it comes to be. The universe and all that lives came into existence on the power of God's word. Both the dry bones and Lazarus, the man who has been dead for three days hear and respond to the word of the Lord.
Even when everything about Lazarus's death makes it impossible for his sisters and the gathered friends to imagine he could walk out of the tomb, when Jesus calls to him he comes. Lazarus will die again and it is Jesus who calls him out of the grave but for Jesus resurrection is God's realm. It is not for human beings. It is important for us to remember that Lazarus' rising from the dead is not identical to the resurrection of our Lord. Lazarus is raised for sure but Jesus is resurrected. The common point is that both stories come from the power of God. So we cry out of the depths to our Lord for his power to come to us in our times of need and despair and wonderings. The bones came together and Lazarus comes out of the tomb by the word and power of our God.
The raising of Lazarus occurs in this way: first Jesus orders the stone to be removed, even though there is some resistance due to the stench that was possible, they listen and roll the stone away. Then Jesus gives thanks to the Father for hearing his prayer. Finally Jesus commands Lazarus to emerge. Neither Lazarus nor anyone else present is said to believe in Jesus' power. Just the opposite is the case. The crowd does not expect the dead man to emerge when the stone is rolled away. The people assume that death is final, irrevocable, and there is no remedy for it.
Yet the story shows us that the crowd did not have to believe in order to make Lazarus' appearance possible. Human belief is not the source of the rising. Jesus' oneness with the Father is the source of the rising. Jesus sees beyond death to God's infinitely greater power. He demonstrates with thanksgiving and authority that his vision is true.
So we find ourselves in the valley of the bones it seems to me with the virus gaining strength among us. We can be heard pleading with God "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord." We can see some hope and solace in the raising of Lazarus if we can keep ourselves grounded in our faith. Easter is coming and the resurrection is coming but in the meantime we find ourselves wondering what next. God's glory comes in unexpected ways. It just happens in God's time and place.
Jesus comes to the tomb of Lazarus and stands where those who come to the tomb grieve. He weeps we are told and we hear about how he loved him. But there are the naysayers who claim if Jesus had come sooner he could have saved Lazarus. Jesus needed to have the time lapse so that the people would know that Lazarus was dead. Jesus is at the center of all of this and it is Jesus who calls Lazarus from the tomb and it is Jesus who tells those gathered to unbind him.
These are difficult times but know that it is our Lord who calls each one of us out of our despair and gives us the ability to find hope in the midst of trouble. God calls each one of us out of the valley of bones to live for him and to serve those around us in this difficult time. It is our Lord who calls us out of our depths to a place where God hears our voice calling to God. It is now that we can pray for all who suffer in any way. Amen
Let us pray: Lord Christ, you came into the world as one of us, and suffered as we do. As we go through the trials of life, help us to realize that you are with us at all times and in all things; that we have no secrets from you; and that your loving grace enfolds us for eternity. In the security of your embrace we pray, Our Father who art in heavenâ€¦ (Pray the Lord's Prayer)
There is a hymn that has stuck with me this week as I studied for my sermon for today. The hymn is "Christ, Be Our Light" and the second verse stands out as well as the refrain. "Longing for peace, our world is troubled. Longing for hope, many despair. Your word alone has power to save us. Make us you living voice." (Verse 2) The refrain is as follows, "Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in our church gathered today." Amen again.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.
-- Pastor Kerns