Lent 5a, (April 5, 2014)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “Life over Death”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. John chapter eleven, as well as our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel chapter thirty-seven.
This text from Ezekiel has to be one of the weirdest ones in the Bible, don’t you think? God commands the prophet to speak to the bones. And this Word from God brings life to these people long dead. Bone to bone, sinew to sinew, skin to skin, slowly but surely, God’s people come together once again by the power of His Word.
But it’s weird. It sounds more like a scene from the Sci-Fi channel, or a horror flick, than a nice story from the Bible. But these aren’t zombies that God has created. They are Israel, His chosen ones who were once dead but are now alive again in Him.
Yet because of the strangeness of the promise, because it is so, well, so unbelievable, we are constantly tempted to make the Christian Church and therefore the Christian Faith about something other than the resurrection of the dead. Do not be taken in by the temptation to make the Church about anything other than the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body. And make no mistake about it: there is a temptation here. Mary and Martha wondered whether Jesus could really do what He said when He said it. And we, too, question and wonder whether Jesus promises matter here and now. It would be so much easier if we would forget all of this resurrection talk, get on with the times, and make Christianity into a divine to-do list that would lay a big heavy guilt trip upon us all.
For you see, beloved in Christ, God knows that there are times when you feel dead inside. God knows that there are times when His whole church here on earth and in even in heaven itself groan and cry like Mary and Martha, wondering if God’s presence would really make things better, wishing that God would come down and bring their dead one back to life.
But this is God’s great purpose and intention. Do you remember Jesus’ words to the disciples about why Lazarus had to die? ““This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”” (John 11:4 ESV)
This was, I’m going to guess, not much comfort to Mary and Martha. Knowing in your head that God will raise your loved one from the dead, well, it’s pretty hard to cling to that, isn’t it? The grief is real. The pain is real. The loss is real. The sorrow is real. But the resurrection of the body? That somehow is less real. It is hidden in the promises of God, left to some future time that we cannot see, cannot taste or touch or smell.
But what we can smell is death. Do you remember Martha when Jesus asked them to roll away the tomb? I can’t help but remember it from the King James Version from my childhood, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” (John 11:39 KJV)
Reality stinketh, to paraphrase. The reality of death and sorrow, of sickness and injury and brokeness and sin, these things seem or so much more real that God’s promise of resurrection. But they are not. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and therefore your resurrection, are as really as I am standing before you today. But perhaps our hymn for today expresses it best:
“I am the Lord of life and death!”
You answered Martha’s cry,
“And all who hear and trust My Word
Shall live, although they die!”
You walked the path to Laz’rus’ tomb,
You called him forth by name,
And living, loving once again,
From death to life he came! (LSB 552:xxx)
What a comfort! What a reality! Jesus raises Him from the dead. The voice of the One who created heaven and earth commands even death itself. When God calls, everyone answers. And so He calls forth Lazarus from the tomb.
For you, He called you from the tomb when you were baptized. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4 ESV)
Now in John’s Gospel, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the turning point. From this time forward, the Pharisees and the other religious leaders would not be satisfied with silencing Jesus, or marginalizing Him, or labeling Him a kook or a nut job. No, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He sealed His own death. They could not handle resurrection. It was too much, too crazy, too hard to explain away.
This rejection continues to this day. Christian Churches and Christians the world over are rejected for their belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, as we confess in the Creed. We are dismissed as out of step with the times or living in a fantasyland. But the words of St. Paul echo true even still:
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11 ESV)
Today God’s promises are for you. Today God beathes new life into your dry bones by the Word of His Spirit. Today He gives you His own Son’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. Today you come to the Table with Lazarus, and Mary and Martha, and all the host of heaven. Today you receive the Medicine of Immortality on your lips. Today, even though the world rejects your as they rejected Jesus, today eternal life is yours in His Name. Jesus death and resurrection has sealed your future. Your future is secure, because you are in Him.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.