“Words of Spirit and Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53)

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2020

“Words of Spirit and Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53)

Have you been starting to feel like you’re Lazarus? I mean, you’ve been cooped up in your quarantine “tomb,” not just for four days, but now going on fourteen days. You’ve been stuck inside so long, maybe skipping showers, maybe skipping laundry–“Lord, by this time there will be an odor!” You’re stuck inside, and you’re waiting for someone to speak the word, “Lazarus, come out!” But for now, it looks like you’re going to have to wait a little longer. The President’s hope that we will be able to go back to church on Easter–well, we’ll have to wait and see if that can come to pass.

And so we wait. Inside. Virtual reality. But what is very real, and what is very powerful–indeed, what is creative and life-living–is the word of God. The word of God gives us hope and joy, in the midst of economic uncertainty and social isolation, even in the midst of disease and death. The words that God speaks to us–even today, now as you hear them–these are “Words of Spirit and Life.”

“Words of Spirit and Life”: This is the theme that I see running through all three of our lessons today, from Ezekiel 37, Romans 8, and John 11. But the title that I’m using today, “Words of Spirit and Life”–that I got from the end of John chapter 6. There Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

“Words of Spirit and Life”: We see it in the reading from Ezekiel 37. “The Valley of Dry Bones,” this passage is called. Ezekiel is given a vision of a valley full of dry bones. Deadness all around. Can these bones live? No way, not on their own. That’s how we are. You and I are sinners, dead spiritually–which will lead to us being dead physically, too. Death is the curse that fell upon mankind because of our sin. And you and I are guilty, dead men walking, left on our own. We have a worse problem than the coronavirus. We have a sinful nature, which infects us all. We have cut ourselves off from God, isolating ourselves, hiding from our Creator. Can these bones live?

Well, on second thought, yes, they can live! When God speaks his life-giving word to these bones, when God breathes his life-giving breath into us, yes, we are raised from the dead. “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”

This is why I have been called to preach the gospel. Through this life-giving gospel of Christ, God breathes the Spirit into you and gives you life. Through the word, the Spirit sustains you in this new life and keeps you strong in the faith. This is why you need the word constantly, even during a coronavirus epidemic. If someone with that virus were to breathe on you, they could be breathing death into you. But when the Holy Spirit breathes life into you–yes, these bones will live!

“Words of Spirit and Life”: Second, we see it in the reading from Romans 8. “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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.”

Brothers and sisters, you were joined to Christ in Holy Baptism, buried with him into death and raised with him unto newness of life. You will share in his resurrection. You have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you. This means you have life within you! The Holy Spirit is “the Lord and giver of life,” as we just confessed in the Nicene Creed. Your mortal bodies, though they die, yet shall they live. Because Christ lives, you will live also. Forever. This sure and certain hope gives us great courage in the here and now. We have nothing to fear. Where, O death, is your sting? Where, O grave, is your victory? Not around here! I have been baptized into Christ. God has given me the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life. And so you and I can say with confidence, “I shall not die but live.”

“Words of Spirit and Life”: We see it in the Holy Gospel for today, John 11, the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus was a good friend of Jesus. Jesus heard that he was sick. Jesus had the power to cure him. But instead of going to Lazarus right away and healing him, Jesus kept his distance. He loved Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, but he stayed away. For a couple of days. Then he decides to go there. After Lazarus has died. Some kind of friend Jesus is!

Do you ever feel like that? Why is God letting me suffer? Why doesn’t God intervene? And on my timetable! I suppose we all feel like that. Martha and Mary were no different. Lazarus has been in the tomb four days now when Jesus arrives. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Well, true, Jesus could have healed him. But he has something even greater in mind. So he says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

How about you? Do you believe this? If you are trusting in Christ as your Savior, then, even though you may die of this or that disease, or of old age, or whatever–even so, you will live. You will live forever with your Lord. If you are trusting in Christ your Savior, you will never die–not the big eternal death. Falling asleep in Jesus will not interrupt your life with him. On the day you die, our soul will be alive with the Lord in paradise. And on the day Christ returns, he will raise up your body from the grave.

To demonstrate that, then, to demonstrate his power over death and the grave, Jesus now will raise up Lazarus from the dead. That’s why Jesus delayed his visit: to make it abundantly clear that when he raises Lazarus, there will be no question about it. It wasn’t like Lazarus was just unconscious for a little while. No, he was really dead. Lifeless. Wrapped up like a mummy. Buried in a tomb. No question about it. Lazarus was dead.

Jesus comes to the tomb. “Take away the stone.” You know, there will be another stone, sealing another tomb, in just a couple of weeks. That one will not hold the occupant dead, either. Jesus, as the Son of God, has the power of life within him. He bestows life as he wills. And how does he do it? By his word.

Jesus speaks his word of Spirit and life now: “Lazarus, come out!” It’s a good thing he specified Lazarus by name, or else he might have emptied out all the tombs in the vicinity. Jesus speaks, and things happen. His words do what they say. And so out comes Lazarus, wrapped up in the burial cloths. “Unbind him,” Jesus says. “We can’t have a live man wrapped up like he’s dead.”

Now can you imagine what this must have been like for Lazarus? “Whoa, that was a nice nap I had! Glad to be back with you all! Thank you, Lord!”

Imagine what it will be like for you and me when Jesus returns and raises up our dead bodies! Not only will our bodies be raised whole and glorious, no longer subject to disease or decay–not only that, but all of creation will be restored, new and glorious, better than ever. Like the garden of Eden and then some!

Thursday I had been cooped up at home for a few days, self-quarantined, and finally I decided to go outside and run a few errands. I walked outside, and I take a look around, and I’m thinking, “Whoa! It’s like spring has sprung! The temperature is nice. Everything is green. The trees have started to blossom. Don’t they know there’s a virus going around?”

Dear friends, this old world of death and decay will not go on like this forever. We have better days to look forward to. Christ will call us out of our quarantine and our isolation. He will call us from the grave. “Lazarus, come out!” “Betty, come out!” “Bill, come out!” It will be one great big coming-out party! Coming out of death into life. Our eyes will be opened, and we will see things as we have never seen them before. I’m looking forward to it! Are you?

Jesus will speak the word, and we will arise. And what gives that word its power and its effectiveness for us is all the forgiveness and life Jesus has packed into it. Christ Jesus won that forgiveness for you when he died on the cross for your sins. Caiaphas, the high priest, was an enemy of Jesus, but he was absolutely correct when he unwittingly prophesied: “Don’t you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, than that the whole nation should perish?” Yes, Caiaphas, Jesus is the one man who did die for us all, so that we will not die eternally. And this same Jesus will come again and “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” No more isolation! God’s family, united forever!

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the resurrection and the life. Your words are Spirit, and they are life. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life! Amen!

Published in: on March 28, 2020 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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