April 2, 2017 Sermon: “Lazarus Unbound”

April 2, 2017

“Lazarus Unbound”

The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray

Sometimes reading the Bible can feel like we are walking into the middle of a long conversation between two very old friends.  You know those kinds of conversations, where people tell those “you had to be there” kind of jokes, where they talk about people we’ve never met and places we’ve never been, they finish each other’s sentences, and say things like “that’s just like the time we did this . . . remember that?”

I told the Chapel and New Stone crowd two weeks ago (so some of you might be hearing this again) how so often we feel like when we sit down with a particular text from the Bible, that it is just us and these verses in front of us, and all we need to do is read them.

But, I want to invite us to thing about the Bible as a centuries-long conversation between God and people, and between the authors themselves.

So the gift that the Revised Common Lectionary is that it takes texts from different parts of the Bible and lays them side by side, to show us the connections so that we see more of the conversation unfold before us, so that we don’t feel quite so left out.

The more we read the Bible the more we get to be one of the old friends in this long conversation of love.

So with all that in mind, we are going to read two texts from the Revised Common Lectionary this morning (and it will be ok).  This texts are long but as you listen, consider how these texts speak to one another.  What is the conversation about?

Hear now God’s word to us from the prophet Ezekiel and John the disciple.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

37The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 

3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 

5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 

7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 

8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 

10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 

11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 

12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 

13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 

14I 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,” says the Lord.


John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 

But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 

Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 

The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 

11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 

12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 

13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 

16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 

18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 

20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 

21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 

24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 

27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 

29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 

31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 

34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 

36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 

39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 

41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 

43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 

44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.



What connections did you hear?

In both texts there is this movement from death to life, from the impossible to the possible, all because of God.  These texts are about resurrection.

And you might be thinking it is a bit early to be talking about resurrection.  We are in the fifth week of Lent, next week is Palm Sunday and then Easter and that is when we get to talk about resurrection.

But Lent is a season of preparation, so today we think about the meaning of resurrection so that we might celebrate all the more when Easter comes.

There are whole worlds within these 45 verses in John, enough for a series of sermons:

why did Jesus wait so long to go to the help of his dearly loved friends?

Why did both sisters say, “If you had been here my brother would not have died”? Why did Jesus weep?

Why bring Lazarus back to life when death comes for all of us?

As we explore each of our questions, we hear God speaking through the text.  That’s how this is a living Word for us.

This morning we are just going to explore one question: what is the meaning of resurrection?

I asked this question to the Wednesday Women’s Bible Study and they said “Jesus.”  Always the right answer, right?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important event in our history, the moment when everything changed, when once and for all love won, death was conquered, and all that stands between us and God was washed away forever.  The apostle Paul writes that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then we are still in our sins and our faith is useless.

These texts this morning paint a picture of resurrection that expands it beyond something that happened to one person two thousand years ago.

The prophet Ezekiel has this poetic vision about the kind of death that comes to living people.


He speaks to people who are exiled, driven from their homes by an enemy conqueror, feeling far from every comfort, everything that is familiar, far from their places of worship, far from God.  In their lives they have become as dry and as dead as bones.  And this is what it can feel like to lose all hope.

This week I read a news account of hundreds of children in Sweden who are afflicted with a syndrome called uppgivenhetssyndrom, which sounds like what it is: a syndrome in which kids have given up on life.  It is also called resignation syndrome and it began happening when after a traumatic migration, families were denied asylum and were going to be sent back to the lives they escaped from.  The children in the families gave up on life.  They stop moving, eating, drinking, speaking.  They lie for months or years unable to move or respond.

This is an extreme example but many of us know what it feels like to encounter death in our own lives, to lose hope about some part of our lives.

We have lost important people in our lives and we are still walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

We have lost opportunities or relationships.

We have lost sight of what is most important, we have lost sight of God.

Fear and anxiety have deadened our spirits.

We look at our lives and we can see the dead places, where hope has vanished.

So, we return to God’s Word and find there that death becomes life.

The pattern of death and resurrection is imprinted on our hearts, and not because of anything we have done or can do, but completely through God’s Spirit.


The apostle Paul writing to the church in Rome in another text assigned for today writes that this Spirit which was in Christ, this Spirit which raised Christ from the dead, this Spirit is ours too.

This Spirit brings us new life, even now.

The Spirit of God speaks to the dry bones of our lives and breathes new life into us.

Nothing is beyond hope, nothing is so dead that God’s life cannot reach it.

We were already bound up in our burial clothes, already in the tomb, and God calls to us and says you are no longer tied up, you are no longer dead, come out of the dark and into the land of the living.

Resurrection means release from all that binds us, resurrection means the dead things in our lives can breathe again.

Resurrection transforms us now, and not just in some beautiful future moment, but right now.  All of our lives can be transformed right now by this life-giving Spirit of God.

As we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning, consider what resurrection means for you.  What can the Spirit of God transform for you right now?