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Easter Prelude

jesusmarthamaryEzekiel 37: 1-14
John 11: 1-45
Yesterday, on April 1, Helen Turner of Linwood, New Jersey, turned 110 years old.  She may very well now be the oldest living American.

In a story about Helen in The Star-Ledger on Thursday, her daughter Nancy Mellon commented:  “When my father died [in 1986], she decided, she told me, that she either had to sit down and die or she had to create and start over and have a new life.  She decided it was all up to her what the rest of her life was going to be like.”

Helen herself said, “Well, I thought my life was over.”  But it was not. “She dyed her hair blonde...bought new clothes...traveled...and got involved with clubs,” said [her daughter].  “It was amazing.” (Woods 16)  

We are not dead until we are dead.  This is part of the message of the scripture readings for today.

  • From the Old Testament:  God takes the prophet Ezekiel on a visionary journey to a valley filled with dry bones – a picture of ancient Israel in exile.  Once the beloved and obedient children of God, led through the wilderness to the promised land, the nation had strayed from God’s ways.  They ignored the commandments; they worshipped other gods; they failed to seek God’s justice and peace.  Now they have been overrun by Babylon and we see the remnants of a great battle:  scorched earth, temple in ruins, people now just piles of desiccated bones. But God does not abandon his people.  They are still his beloved children.  I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.  .  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...  “Breath” and “spirit” – the same Hebrew word, ruah.
  • From the Gospel of John:  God speaks through Jesus, “Lazarus, come out!”   The holy voice of Jesus breathes new life into the corpse that has lain in the tomb for four days.  Life begins anew for the man who was decidedly dead.  New life, right then.  Dead no more.

It is no happenstance that these two stories of resurrection come on this last Sunday in Lent.  Next week we begin the long journey to the cross.  These two stories then are a prelude, a foretaste, of Jesus’ own experience of crucifixion and death... and of Easter resurrection.
So often we think the way Martha did when she said to Jesus, “I know that he [her brother Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  She understood, as did many at that time, that those who have died will come out of their graves at the end of time.
But Jesus was not talking about the end of time.  “I am the resurrection and the life.”  What Jesus promises is new life, right now.  For Lazarus, the Gospel describes not his future with Jesus, but his life in the present.  What God offered those dry bones in Ezekiel was new life for the people of Israel, in their land, in their present time.   As much as we believe and look forward to an eternal life, abundant life in the spirit now is a big part of the meaning of Jesus’ life. We cannot be dead when the Holy Spirit is our breath of life.

There’s lots to consider here.

  • Personally:  Are you feeling spiritually dried up?  What sad situation has you trapped, entombed?  What old identity have you been forced to shed – and you don’t quite have a grip on a new one?
  • In our nation:  What values that we hold as Christians – peace, justice, equality, hospitality, compassion, truth – seem to be on their deathbed?
  • In our churches:  Has religious practice died away?  Has the voice of God been drowned out?  Do we care? God’s promise of movement out of death and into new life is always being held out to us, no matter how far gone we may seem to be.  The Holy Spirit breathes new life into us and stirs up fresh hope.

Now to the One who by the power at work within us
is able to accomplish abundantly far more
than anything we can ask or imagine,
to God be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

Woods, Don E. “Woman turning 110: ‘I enjoy life every day’” The Star-Ledger 30 March 2017: 16.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
April 2, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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