St. John's, Centreville
March 29, 2020
5 Lent A
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are; and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In our readings this morning, we hear about life coming out of death. In our Old Testament lesson from Exekiel, we hear the story of the dry bones, lifeless and unattached. The bones come together but there is not life in them, until God breathes into them new life.
In our reading from the gospel of John, we hear the story of Lazarus. Lazarus has died and has been in the tomb for four days by the time Jesus arrives in Bethany. "If you had been here, my brother would not have died," say both Martha and Mary to Jesus. Why weren't you here? Why did you let him die?
But Jesus knows there is a greater purpose in the death of Lazarus. As the townspeople gather around the tomb where Lazarus lies to see what Jesus will do, Jesus calls out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" And slowly Lazarus emerges from the tomb, still wrapped in some of his burial cloths, blinking his eyes to get used to the light after being in the dark for so long. Jesus says, "Unbind him and let him go."
Jesus calls to us in the darkness and death of our lives. He calls us out of our tombs of death, whatever they may be, to new life and new hope. Then Jesus unbinds us from our sins and lets us go into the light of a new day, with new hope and new vision and new beginnings. Jesus can raise us up from the pain and hurt and failures and mistakes. He can make us new again, as he did in the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel, making us not just physically alive but spiritually alive.
How many times have we gone through death and darkness in our own lives? Some of us may be feeling that now as the corona virus seems to keep spreading with no end in sight, to be able to get back to a normal life. Some may feel the isolation and fear of darkness that we have no control over. At times like this we, too, might have cried out as Mary and Martha did. "Lord, if you have been here, my brother would not have died." Lord, if only you had been here. If you had only told my loved one to go to the doctor sooner; if only you had not let my son get in that car; if only you had not let them take that trip; if only you had stopped this virus before it started; if only......
But what we are missing is the fact that God IS here with us in the midst of this virus and other pains and problems that we may be facing. God is with those who are now unemployed because of the virus, God is with those who are experiencing financial difficulties because of their job loss or the fluctuating stock market, God is with those who are sick and those who have tested positive for the disease. The core message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that there is NO darkness, no illness, no misfortune, no death that cannot be transformed and called out into the light of day as Lazarus was called out of the dark tomb. Lazarus' coming out of the dark tomb embodies the power of the gospel to make all things new - even things that have been dead for weeks or months or years.
God can and does breathe new life into each and every one of us when we put our faith and trust and hope in God. When we surrender ourselves to God's life-giving ways, we can be raised from death and sin to new life in Christ. That does not mean that nothing bad will happen to us. What it means is that God is in the midst of it all, raising us up, healing our wounds, loving us, and giving us eternal life with God.
The light of Christ is transformational. As the pillar of fire led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, so the light of Christ leads us and guides us, if we are open to God's presence. Even in this time of fear and uncertainly, not knowing how long we will need to isolate ourselves, not knowing how long we might be out of work, God's light shines in our midst. Rather than thinking about all our regular activities and social events we are missing, look at the opportunities that this time is providing for us.
We have more time with our families, as no one is rushing off to go somewhere. We have more time to be a part of what our children or grandchildren are learning in school. We have more time to be creative. We have time to slow down and be present in the moment, not worrying about rush hour traffic for those who are able to work from home. A lot of housecleaning can get done, with donations of things we don't need going to people who need them. We have time to make connections with our neighbors, by phone at least, to check in and see how they are doing.
This Lent, we are on a journey, a journey much different than past seasons of Lent. Let's look at the newness that we can find in that, perhaps deeper connections with God, perhaps new ways of seeing things. Let's use this time as an opportunity, an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than on a time of complaining about what we are missing, or how bored we are.
Trust in God. God will lead us through this desert time, through this unparalleled time of uncertainty and fear about how long this virus will last, about getting the virus ourselves, about disruptions of our normal routines and activities. Throughout the gospels, Jesus tells us not to fear, that God is with us and will give us strength and courage and support during the trials of life. Our faith and trust must be in God, no matter what we face, no matter what lies ahead.
As Jesus says to Martha, he also says to us. "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even thought they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" And Martha replies, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world."
May our faith and clarity of Jesus as the source of light and life, of resurrection and new life, be as strong as that of Martha's. May our trust be always in God as we journey through this difficult time. Amen.