Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-47 – March 29, 2020


Ezekiel had a vision that a valley of dried up bones and was told to prophesy to those dried up bones. It was not exactly a lively congregation.  But in that vision God was telling Ezekiel that anything was possible. Even Israel could make a comeback.  They could come back to life and comeback from exile.  Hear the word of the Lord from Ezekiel 37-1-14


These last few Sundays we’ve been looking at a series of encounters that people had with Jesus.  We’ve seen a religious leader named Nicodemus who was afraid to be seen in broad daylight who comes to Jesus at night.  We’ve seen a woman who was a social outcast and afraid to be seen with anyone who went to the well when at high noon when no one else would so she wouldn’t be seen.  We’ve seen a man who couldn’t see at all to whom Jesus reached out.  This morning we look at a person who couldn’t see, speak or hear because he had been dead for four days.   Hear now the gospel of our Lord from John 11, verses1-47.


In the early 80’s I was a youth pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Houston.  One of my youth was a guy named John Mark Solomon.  In response to physical distancing he accepted his pastor’s challenge to write a hymn for these times of Pajama worship.  . I couldn’t resist the urge to change a few of his lyrics. It’s to the tune of Come Ye Thankful People Come

Come, ye PJ’d people, come. Don your slippers; stay at home.

Social distancing is here!  Praise the Lord from over there.
In our houses we will pray. Got enough TP till after May.
Stay, ye PJ’d people, stay, safely in your home today!” Amen

When will be get to comeback to church?  When will we be able to come back to work?  When will teachers and students be able to come back to the classroom?  When will we be able to make our COME BACK?  Does it feel like it is impossible?

When Jesus’ mother Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was to have a child she questioned how it could be since she had never been with a man.  The angel responded, “With God all things are possible.”

With God all things are possible. With us humans, some things are possible.  

With the aid of electricity and modern technology, on a limited basis we are able to do what Jesus did.  With the advent of crash carts and paddles and someone yelling, “Clear!” we regularly see the art of resuscitation dramatized on TV.  We watch as the actor playing a doctor on TV tries once, twice, maybe even three times, each time increasing the wattage.  If their efforts are successful, the camera swings to the monitor and the flat line jumps and starts making mountains and hills instead of Kansas.  If it is not successful?…Kansas. 

I once heard a program on NPR that interviewed physicians about using the paddles to resuscitate patients.  When they were asked if they would want them used on them 96% said,”No..”  When asked why, they reported that the paddles only work about 6% of the time.   When asked why they were used so much, they said,”TV”.  On TV the paddles work almost every time.  That’s good drama. It’s not reality. 

With us, resuscitation is possible, but for it to be successful it has to take place within seconds or maybe minutes at the most of a person dying and with loads of electronic equipment. However, I have yet to see a team and a crash cart rush into a morgue 4 days after someone has died and hooking up to the wall plug and yelling “Clear!”

Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: “What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?”

The first of the friends said: “I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community.”

The second said: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow,” said another.

The third friend said,”I would like them to say, Look, he’s moving!!”

When Mary saw Jesus approaching, she ran to him and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Her tear-stained face revealed her grief. Her grief and that of the others in the house deeply moved Jesus. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. They answered, “Lord, come and see.” It was then that even Jesus wept.  Jesus wept.  It’s the shortest sentence in the Bible.

Those surveying this scene remarked, “See how he loved him!” Jesus cares about our heartaches and our pain as well.

Ernest Hemmingway was once asked to write a short story in six words.  He wrote: “For sale: baby shoes never used.” 

John wrote an even shorter story in two words.  “Jesus wept.”  Even though Jesus knew he was about to bring Lazarus forth from the tomb surrounded by the grief of his family and friends, Jesus wept.

When hurricanes hit our shores, Jesus wept. When planes crashed into the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania Jesus wept. When a family stood over the coffin of a tiny baby who was allowed only a few months of tortured life Jesus wept.  When a husband paced the hospital floor as he learns that his wife of fifty years will soon be gone – a victim of deadly cancer, Jesus wept. When a Malaysian airliner went missing, Jesus wept.  When another tortured soul went on a shooting spree, Jesus wept. When Tornados hit Nashville, Jesus wept. When even now an unseen virus spreads through our planet….Jesus weeps. 

Today co-anchor Hoda Kotb broke down in tears on Friday after she interviewed New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who made a $5 million donation to help coronavirus victims in Louisiana.

Kotb thanked Brees for his generous donation and said that other people will be inspired by it to contribute as well. “Drew, we love ya!” she said.

 “Love you too, Hoda,” he said.

She then was overcome with emotion. “I’m sorry,” she said, fighting tears. Kotb worked as an anchor in New Orleans for CBS station WWL-TV in the 1990s.

“It’s a lot. I know where your heart is, my dear, I do,” said co-anchor Savannah Guthrie.

Later, Guthrie told Kotb, “You know, we all get it. There’s just moments where it sort of gets you from out of nowhere. All of us understand that. Everyone feels a lot of pressure right now.”

“You sort of look around for someone to hug just because,” Kotb said

Guthrie has been working from home in a makeshift basement studio as a precaution against the coronavirus, while Kotb has been sole anchor from the studio.

Kotb noted how the city had the largest surge in coronavirus cases in the country, and that Brees stepped in to help. The increase in cases is being attributed by some to last month’s Mardi Gras celebrations.

“We’ve got to stick together right now,” Brees told Kotb in his interview.

Longtime Saints head coach Sean Payton was the first NFL coach or player known to test positive for the coronavirus.  He told ESPN on March 19 that he went public with the news because he wants people to follow warnings and advice as the illness spreads throughout the United States and the world. Since then, the Crescent City has become one of the planet’s hot spots for COVID-198

Tears are contagious. On more than one occasion I have been asked to preside at a funeral for a person I have never met.  However, as I heard friends and family testify about their loved ones life and how much they meant to them, as I heard them weeping for the loss of their friend I found it hard to hold back my own tears. 

A friend of mine lost his roommate this week and he will have to wait 3 weeks for the cremation.  As I heard his story this week it was hard to hold back my tears as I heard him break up on the phone. We are now seeing deaths rise from the covid-19 and funerals that will have to be held on video. We have had 1,700 deaths in our country as of Saturday morning.

The story of the raising of Lazarus is a living lesson about our faith. To those who believe, Christ has given this promise: when this world has passed away, we shall live with him forever.  Just as Christ wept over Lazarus before he resuscitated him from the dead, so Jesus has compassion over our situation, whatever it may be.

Lazarus’ tomb was a cave with a stone lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha replied, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.”  I think the King James Version says, “He stinketh.”

Jesus told her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus looked upward and said a prayer. Then he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And Lazarus came forth from the tomb, like a mummy from a B horror film he came forth doing the “mummy hop” because he was bound head and foot with strips of cloth.  It was like the “Afternoon of the Walking Dead.” Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  

The obvious message of this story, of course, is Jesus’ power over death.  That’s why when he was talking with Martha he didn’t say, “I Am the Resuscitation.”  He said, “I AM the Resurrection.” 

Lazarus was resuscitated.  Jesus was resurrected.  On another day, Lazarus would die again and stay that way.  Lazarus is the only person to have a funeral mulligan! Jesus never died again.  From that day on Jesus has lived and lives and because he lives we know that even when we die, our spirits will live on. 

Because of Jesus, all who believe in him have something far better than resuscitation.  They have the promise of resurrection.

When we say the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed to affirm our faith we say that we believe in the resurrection of the dead.  What does that mean exactly?  It means that we believe that when we die our spirits go to be with the Lord in a place prepared for us by Jesus.  Remember, Jesus said to one of the thieves who were crucified beside him “Today you will be in Paradise with me.”

Jesus wept by an occupied tomb and called his friend to come forth. Days later Mary wept by an unoccupied tomb until she realized that as Jesus had done with her brother, so now Jesus had also … come forth for good.  It was an astounding comeback. 

William P. Brown, a man I don’t know, wrote a meme that I shared on my Facebook page this last Thursday.  He said,

“Trump announced yesterday that it is his wish to relieve social restrictions on Easter Sunday (April 12), feeling certain that COVID-19 will be dramatically on the downswing by then. I so wish he were right, but from what we know of the scientific data, that would be a disastrous decision that will cause more death and grief in our communities. We must not only be resigned to the value of social distancing over a long and indefinite period of time but also be champions of it until the virus is truly vanquished. As for an alleged “American Resurrection” on Easter marked by physically gathered celebrations, I suggest this. Let us make this Easter profoundly memorable by celebrating the “empty tomb,” by letting our sacred gathering places remain empty as testimony that lives are being saved in doing so. The empty tomb, after all, marked the beginning of the Resurrection. Let’s linger over it this year; let’s revel in it. Who knows, maybe by Pentecost we can physically gather again, but that depends on what we do now. Let us follow the science as we follow Christ from the cross to the empty tomb that is emptied of death.”

Those of us living in isolation these days may feel like Lazarus.  It’s been more than 4 days.  It may be months.  We are far better off than a bound up mummy that “stinketh.” We are far better off than a valley of dry bones!  The longer we isolate the sooner we will be able to make our comeback. It may not be by Easter.  It may be by Pentecost May 31st.  We have to be grateful for the knowledge that gives us reliable directions as to what to do.  We pray that we act as good neighbors to every other person on this planet that we will do what is best so that not only us but also our whole world can make … a comeback.

Let’s pray. O God who creates, nurtures and resurrects, in the midst of life, we have been sealed in death.  When Jesus joined his tears to Martha and Mary’s they did not anticipate Gethsemane’s agony. When Martha said she believed in the resurrection after life, she did not know Jesus ends death and begins new life, bringing eternity into this world. Yet, even in their simple faith, Martha and Mary believed Jesus, and trusted their brother’s lifeless body to Jesus’ power. Now we look back to Lazarus’ tomb and know Jesus sets us free, as he unbinds us forever from the wrappings of death. Now the dawning light of your eternal kingdom breaks upon us, calling us out of this world’s tombs. Now the glory of Christ shines brightly on our understanding, as we see the awful price he paid to save our lives. This we pray in the name of Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life.

To view a video recording of this sermon, click here:

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