Sermon: The Fifth Sunday of Lent (A) – 6th April 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8: 6-11; John11: 1-45

What do we make of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones?  The central message is clear enough: God can breathe new life into old bones.  It applies to a community of faith that appears to have been defeated, even destroyed like an army that was overcome in battle.  It applies to the individual person who feels defeated in life and faith and has lost hope.  The message is, “You can live!”  If you hear the Word of God and respond to it you not only can live, but you shall live.  The dry bones will come together no matter how far they have been scattered.  Sinews will come upon them so that they can work together again, and flesh will cover them.  Even the breath of life will come into those dead bodies when the wind of the Spirit blows.  It is a message of hope.  It’s the same hope that Jesus gave when he raised Lazarus from the dead.

The story of Ezekiel is not really focussed on what happened to the dry bones.  The actors are not the bones, or the bodies they represent.  The real characters in the drama are God, Ezekiel and the Spirit.  They are the characters who produce the action.  It was quite a challenge for the prophet to do what God told him to do.  It was an act of faith to tell the dry bones that they would live.  The first point of the drama, even in a dreamlike vision, was to decide whether Ezekiel had the faith to do what was asked of him.

Does it make any sense for the prophet to speak to the bones if they don’t know that they dead?  Well, you might say it is a silly idea anyway talking to a lot of old bones.  Whoever thought of any sane person doing that.  Like Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb, you must have great faith in what you are doing to do that.  Jesus calling froth Lazarus must have looked very silly.  He had been dead four days.  He had great faith in what God can do.  Yet if you really believe in the power of God to give new life and you believe that God cares enough to answer our pleas for life, then you will have faith enough to speak the word of hope to even the most hopeless.

What if the dryness of the bones goes unrecognised!  What if people, as individuals or as the church or nation, do not know that they are dead?  I suspect that in fact, when the life has gone most people do know in their bones, that it has gone.  Yet I fear that all too often we are afraid to admit the state we in.

The message of hope can only be heard when you are prepared to admit you are in trouble, when you can feel the dryness of the bones.  As Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish existential philosopher, said, We hope only when we cease to hope”.  It takes a lot of faith to proclaim the message of hope with honesty when you don’t know whether people recognise the marks of death that are upon them.  We are a people who live by hope.

We must be realistic and stop looking for quick fixes or easy ways to bringing new life to a life that has gone dry.  The short cuts to the new world are an illusion.  First we must face the reality.  There is not just a little bit of sickness around, but a mortal shadow is cast.  To change the metaphor if you don’t know that the ship is virtually on the rocks you might not be very interested in changing direction.  It takes a lot of time and effort to turn a ship around.  It can be done if your small strength is multiplied by the mechanisms that are built into the ship.  If you make use of power beyond yourself, especially the driving force that propels the ship you can change.  In nautical terms we would have said we must allow the wind to blow the ship in the right direction.  The point is that whether you are steering a ship or commanding an army in the desert you have to know the dangers you are in and the source of life which gives you power to change if you are to survive.

Ezekiel had the faith to proclaim the word of hope to a people without hope.  He believed in the power of God to breathe new life into old bones in a bleak windswept desert valley.  That is what we able to tell our family, friends, associates and ourselves, God can make the dead live.  Ezekiel reminds us that there is meaning in the world and life where there was once death.

This is a beautiful world.  There is life were others say that there is death.  Whether there is life or death God is there and we need not fear.  Because of our hope many will believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  They will see that those who believe in him although they are mortal and will physically die, will live and they never die.

 “I am the resurrection and the life.”

How many of the central and most fundamental sayings of the gospel that have brought new hope and courage to a hard-pressed world, were given in the first place to single, unimportant individuals.

Martha had hoped against hope that her friend would quickly come to her.  However it wasn’t to happen, it was too late, Lazarus had died.  So politely she said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that God will give you what ever you ask of him.”  What did she mean by that?  She probably had no real idea.  Yet her attitude was very natural.  It can be seen in other, troubled confused souls who have faith in the power of God, yet who can’t see how their troubles will be overcome.  For those who know Jesus Christ well, learn to give him blind trust.  They don’t know what it is that he will do, or what they themselves ought to ask from him.  They are however sure of his interest in them, and his power to carry through what no one else could do for them.

To help Martha, Christ gave her that saying which has benefited Christian’s ever since; “I am the resurrection and the life.”  These words have been spoken on many occasions since to give reassurance, particularly at the time of death.

Those words can give hope in times of life too.  In ordinary, everyday life, for those who seek it, resurrection comes from Jesus.  Through him the day-to-day lives of ordinary people have been resurrected.  Souls, which appear dead and lifeless, are restored to life and vitality.  They are like Ezekiel’s dry bones.  Those people can rise out of the sleep of death into which they have descended.  Lives that do not produce anything but dust can produce very abundantly.  They are restored, grow sensitive, active, purposeful and be endowed with powers they haven’t had before.  Where there was once death there is life, because of the way, the truth and the life that only Jesus can give.

What Jesus said to Martha has leaped out through the barriers of death, to give all members of humanity a tremendous promise for the future life.  “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  Calvary was not the end but the beginning.

As we partake in the sharing of the Communion cup we are recalling that Jesus is still today for us the resurrection and the life.  Not in some disembodied, impersonal way, but in a real sense here and now!  We proclaim our, past, present, and future in Christ.  Sharing the cup bonds us as Christians and identifies us as followers of Jesus who proclaim his death and resurrection, as we await his coming in glory.

Wine conjures times of enjoyment and friendship.  In the Psalms it is said; (God you make) “wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine and bread to strengthen the human heart”.  (Psalm 104:15)  To often we meet as the body of Christ, as if it was a funeral.  We meet as if Jesus had not risen from the dead, or as if he did not offer hope for the future.  We meet as if Jesus’ life death and resurrection means nothing.  He is risen from the dead, our lives do have a purpose and we must celebrate.  Easter is for celebration.  The word Eucharist means to give thanks and so every time we meet like this we must celebrate.

The need to celebrate is why we have an Easter party.  We certainly do have much to celebrate.  As the father of the Prodigal Son said, to his other son, who complained about the party given to celebrate the return of his wayward son: ”My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.  But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”

We have much to celebrate.  Let’s throw off our sad faces and begin to enjoy ourselves when we meet together.  Let’s show ourselves, our families and our neighbours that we are more than just dry bones, that we are people of substance who have a purpose in life and in death.  We have Jesus who has given us direction, truth and life!

Let’s party!  Shake those bones!