Faithful Conversations #6
Gospel Focus: The Death of Lazarus
Ezekial 37: 1-14 (The Valley of the Dry Bones)
Romans 8: 6-11
John 11: 1-45 (The Death of Lazarus)
** Note: I’m focusing on the Old Testament reading today, so will include the text of that below. I suggest you make it a general practice to work through all four readings during the week to see the connections! Today (Wednesday) marks Day 24 of the 40 day Lenten Journey (the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not counting Sundays).
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded, and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O my people, and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
For those of us living in the northland, the Lenten journey mirrors the winter to spring transition — we feel it in our bones (especially as we age!) The bleak landscape gives way to the returning layers of green. Darkness to light, despair to hope, death to life — themes that infuse the four readings for the 5th Sunday in Lent, especially illustrated in two powerful stories: Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of the dry bones and Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead.
The Ezekiel story gripped me as a child and remains one of my favorites. I recall singing the spiritual “Dem Bones Gonna Walk Around” in elementary school — I’m trying to imagine what that sounded like! Along with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Daniel, Ezekiel is one of the five major prophetic books in the OT. This Hebrew prophet numbered among those refugee Israelites held in captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar from 593-571 BCE in Babylon (modern day Iraq). This was a dark period for the Jewish people when, among other things, the sacred Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by foreign invaders in 587 — an event that played hard on their collective psyche.
Calling on his fellow Israelites to repent, Ezekiel interpreted both the captivity and the Temple’s destruction as God’s punishment for idolatrous behavior by the people, particularly the religious and political leaders — he was REALLY hard on them! He countered his harsh rhetoric, however, by predicting the return of the exiles to their homeland and the Temple’s restoration. The surreal vision of the valley of dry bones, then, came amidst the promises of such a restoration. The imagery could not be more stark and powerful! God breathed life into those parched bones and they danced. Darkness to light, despair to hope, death to life.
It is good to remind ourselves that the Jewish people who witnessed Christ’s miracles, like the raising of Lazarus in Sunday’s Gospel, carried these traditional Old Testament stories in their hearts. God’s presence was not an abstract thing — it was real, imbedded in their very being. What are we to make of these stories more than 2000 years later? I have been thinking about that this week. That same breath of life, present in the valley of dry bones and at the grave of Lazarus, is blowing within and among us. The Apostle Paul clearly articulates that in Romans 8:9-11, part of this week’s readings. The Spirit dwells in us. That reminds me of the word “enthusiasm” that quality that always brings out our best. Derived from the Greek “entheos,” it means literally “God within us.” God does not intend for us to wallow in darkness, despair, and death. Instead, God infuses us with light, hope, and life.
** Note: As I was writing this today, I was thinking of Ray Ransom who died this week. In one of the last conversations I had with Ray, he exuded such enthusiasm for local government and talked with great hope about the expansion of broadband internet in our county, a project dear to his heart. Humanity at its best. God Bless his memory.
PRAYER (inspired by Psalm 130: 5-6)
Heavenly Father, help us to dwell this day in your word of hope. Give us the enthusiasm to be that word of hope within our families and within our community. You are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
And, from my father’s bookshelf today . . . . (my father’s name was Thor, but his friends and family knew him as “Unk”). One of his great gifts was humor and he especially enjoyed self-deprecating humor that poked fun at Lutherans. This one comes from a book of cartoons by Charles Schultz of Peanuts fame — it made me laugh and I hope you enjoy it!
5 thoughts on “26 March: 5th Sunday in Lent”
Thank you Paul. Gene and I already are appreciative of your time, efforts and talents. The Ransom family thanks you for your reflective comments of Ray. He was a hard worker with an outstanding passion for the welfare of Jackson County and its growth, projects and it people. In 1977 two Ransom boys returned home to work hard for others giving of their time, talents and even treasures. They were so grateful and so eager to give back in true Christian spirit.
Thank you, Paul! I am always amazed with your writing ability. I appreciate your willingness to ‘keep’ us learning and growing in Christ. Two thoughts – The message of Light and Darkness has come through loud and clear this week. Last night at the Church book club, we reviewed and discussed Jane Goodall’s book – the Book of Hope. A quote that stood out for all of us…. “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” Tonight after worship, we heard a presentation on all the hard work being done in our community to help those less fortunate. Even with so many needs, the comment was “there is a beacon of light in Jackson County for all those who are feeling sad and lonely”. Even with all the chaos and trouble in our world, it is not difficult to find a positive light in our lives. God bless!!!
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“Are we there yet? Are we there yet?? How much longer???” Says every young child within the first 50 miles of a 500 mile trip. I have this very same talk with God often and so I’ve always closely related to Psalm 130:6 “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.” After the coming of Jesus we have a more defined Map than this psalmist did but we still are wondering, watching and waiting…
Why do we do we make the time and effort to go over the verses of the lectionary several times a week in preparation for Sunday’s gathering? I came upon this quote this morning;
“Therefore the call is: Watch, study, attende lectoni (attend to reading). In truth, you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well.”
– Martin Luther, Weimar Edition 53, 218
Love that quote — excellent!