Ezekiel’s vision turned into Jesus’ action; that’s what we are meant to see when we pair today’s Old Testament reading with today’s Gospel. The prophet’s vision of a valley of dry bones is pointing to Jesus standing before the tomb of Lazarus, crying out to call his bones back to life.
When I was in Junior High school, the local Lutheran Church had Saturday matinees for the neighborhood children. I attended the movie shown on Easter Saturday. It was today’s Gospel story. I was caught up in the drama of Jesus’ command and the sight of a corpse wrapped in strips of white cloth, getting up and appearing like a walking mummy.
“A miracle!” I thought; only to learn later to call it “a sign” posted in Ezekiel’s vision to point to the Gospel scene of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, to confirm the promise made to the grieving sister, Martha, and through our hearing today’s Gospel, to us:
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.’
An announcement that will echo through Easter Sunday morning, when the stone-sealed grave of Jesus will be opened to expose a burial slab with no corpse; only the grave clothes and the neatly folded napkin that traditionally covered the face.
‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ previewed at Lazarus’ tomb to be played out at Jesus’ empty grave…
From promise to proclamation: Jesus will conquer death and share His new life with all who “believe in Him,” who entrust their life to Him; “even though they die, will live.” …on the other side of death.
But, BUT, there is something more for us to see in the scene of Jesus standing before the tomb where Lazarus was buried- there is something more for us to hear in Jesus’ command, ‘Lazarus, come out!’
Unlike Jesus Who, after rising, will live forever, Lazarus will have to wait to experience Jesus’ promise of eternal life with Him. Jesus’ cry is postponing that joy. Lazarus is being called back to put in more time before his ultimate death.
Lee Trevino, the golfer, was sitting under a tree when lightning struck. He recalls,"It bolted my arms and legs out stiff, jerked me off the ground and killed me. I knew I was dead. There was no pain. Everything turned a warm, gentle orange color. I saw my mama who had been dead for years. I saw other people from my life. It was a newsreel like you read about -- my life passing before my eyes. But it was so pleasant, so wonderful; I felt great. I thought, boy, this dying is really fun. It's when I woke up in the hospital badly burned and in pain that I knew I had come back to life again for some reason."
Like Lazarus, God had more life for him to live on this side of death.For Lazarus it was to hold a banquet to thank Jesus and to enjoy the company of family and friends, and maybe more-maybe to see beyond his house, for Bethany, though having pleasant views and landscapes, was made ugly by all the poor and hungry who needed to be helped.
But it would have to be in exile, for the authorities who plotted Jesus’ death were also out to get Lazarus and his sisters. Both the Eastern Church and the Church at Rome claim him as a bishop; the first saying it was in Cyprus, where he lived another 30 years, the second saying it was in France where he was imprisoned and beheaded by Roman soldiers.
Tradition says Lazarus never smiled for he remembered the lost souls he had seen in his four days in Hades, and in his time before his final death, he was constantly seeing individuals who were not alive to life; dead before they died!
‘Lazarus, come out!’ –
The Gospel cry of Jesus that echoes through to us, to personalize and accept as a call to “come out” from a tomb-like life that is killing us even before we die.
The cry to the addict, to the self-focused life that is making others miserable, to the death sentence of perceived personal failure, to the tomb-like life that sees nothing but gloom and doom broadcast in the daily news and thrown like a funeral pall over each new day. Chicken Little people who go around crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
“Come out!” –
Dare to let God’s love call us back to a life freed of guilt and capable of forgiving. Dare to live a life that believes in God’s intentions to make all things new, in God’s time. Dare to take up a ministry that may be waiting for us to write our own Lee Trevino or Lazarus story. A ministry that may take on the second call of Jesus, not directed to Lazarus, but to everyone else standing there looking at him.
‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ -
Without others’ help Lazarus could not have gotten back to living the life Jesus had raised him to do.
Last week a TV program reported a West Point cadet’s graduation and wedding and then combat service that sent him back home to his wife missing an arm and both legs. If it were not for his wife he would not be able to work his way back to learning to live with three prostheses.
She is “unbinding” him from the grave cloths of a motionless life as she dresses him in his artificial limbs that “let him go” to physical therapy
and whatever life he will be able to return to living.
‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ The Gospel call of Jesus to take on some unbinding service, that helps another person recover from a tomb-like crisis and get back to living. An everyday task of tutoring a classmate; serving in Grace Bean’s Soup kitchen; driving a person to and from doctor’s appointments; or a call or visit to unbind the lonely from their loneliness.
‘Come out!’ and ‘Unbind!’ – The double cry now coming from the Easter Christ, standing on the other side of death, where, until we awaken to life with Him, is calling to us as He called to Lazarus: ‘Come out!’ “Be alive to the life I breathe into you; live for Me NOW!” And, as He called to those looking on, He calls to us:
‘Unbind!’ others in some unbinding way you make your ministry!
The first is Christ’s service to us, the second is ours to others. Today’s Gospel preview of an empty tomb waiting to be played out in the lives of all who receive it. AMEN.