Three friends were sitting in a coffee shop just making small talk and then one said, “You know, I have been thinking about my death recently.” The conversation suddenly got serious. He went on to say, “Yes, I have been thinking, what I like people to say about me at my funeral.” There was of course a pause. And then he continued and said, “I think I would like them to say that I was a great humanitarian that I cared about my community and was always willing to help others.” There was another pause while the other two thought about it and then the second said, “I think I would like it said at my funeral that I was a great husband and father who was a good example for many to follow.” There was another pause even longer than the other two, and then the third friend said, “I would like them to say, “Look, he’s moving!!”
Many people don’t want to face their own deaths. On the one hand, we all understand that death is a part of our lives. One lives and one dies; it is all part of the deal and no one gets out of here alive. But as Christians we need to remember that according to the Scriptures, this was not always the case. According to the Scriptures death was something that was introduced to the world after humans were created. Originally it was intended that humans would not die. Death, we are told was introduced when humanity sinned when humanity broke the relationship they had with God. But because death is something that was added later; it is not something that feels right to us. It is something that we have to accept as a reality now, but it is still difficult to do. Dylan Thomas wrote to his dying father in a poem and said, “Do not go gently into that good night.” In other words, don’t give up Dad! Keep fighting to live! And when it is time for our bodies to die, our bodies typically don’t want to stop and struggle to keep going. The Scriptures call death the final enemy. Death is unnatural because we have eternity in our hearts. God made us for eternity.
Our Old Testament Scriptures have the story of the Lord taking Ezekiel the prophet out to a valley filled with dry bones. And then the Lord asks the prophet, “Can these bones live?” Can these bones live? You know it is one thing to ask that question when a person has only just stopped breathing. Then one can think, well, maybe he or she can be resuscitated. Maybe if we do CPR the person can live. We have stories like the Frankenstein story and the thinking is that if we give a dead body a big enough jolt perhaps we can get everything working again. But we do not have any stories of resuscitation when the body has completely decomposed so that nothing remains except the bones. There is no flesh, no organs, no soft tissue at all. There are only the calcified bones. God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel looks at the bones and knows only God can do something with the bones and so replies, “Lord God, you know.” Of course with us the answer would be easy, right? With us we would answer, “No, of course not; it is too late.” It was too late for those bones to live even days after the person died, even hours after the person died. We cannot bring life to the dead. We can do marvelous things with medicine, but we cannot bring the dead to life.
But God can. In this story of the dry bones Ezekiel speaks the words of God to the bones and the bones first come together, then the muscles and organs and tissue grow in the bodies and finally the skin covers them. Then the prophet speaks the words of God to the winds and breath comes into these bodies and they live. The power of God’s word reverses the effects of death and brings back life.
We see the same power in the gospel story of Lazarus. Jesus has raised dead people to life before but not like this. Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus to life. But she had died only 30 or so minutes earlier. Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain. But he had been dead less than a day. Lazarus on the other hand had been dead for four days. His body has been decomposing. There is a stench from the rotting body. But when Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out” The body of Lazarus is brought back to life. The decaying stops and reverses. The heart starts pumping the blood; the organs begin to function; Lazarus gets up and shuffles or maybe hops out of the tomb. It is an incredible picture. Can you imagine how the people who were there felt? On the one hand they were terrified and on the other hand there was this stunned feeling of ‘this cannot be happening’. This was not some story they had heard; they were actually seeing someone who had his grave-clothes still stinking of death walk out of his tomb. Jesus the Living Word of God spoke and the dead came to life.
Clearly this is one of the most powerful miracles of Jesus! Jesus assaults human death and soundly defeats it. And why, to what point? After all, Lazarus is going to die again. Jesus did not give him an immortal body so in another few years Lazarus would once again die. So why does Jesus raise him up to life? First so Martha and Mary, his disciples, and all of us would see first-hand that he does have authority and power over death. And because of that we can have the sure and certain hope of resurrection. Jesus had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” He said it and then he proved it. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he gave Lazarus a mortal life back. But raising Lazarus was simply a foreshadowing, a picture of what he would do in the future. Now since Jesus himself has died and been raised back to life, and raised with a resurrection body, now when he brings us back to life, Scripture tells us that we too will be raised with incorruptible bodies. We die here in weakness, but we will be raised in power. We will have died mortals, but we will be raised to immortality.
Do you see how this changes everything for us? Through Jesus we have been freed from the fear of death and the agony that death’s separation causes. Death still happens every day all around us. But because of the promise of Jesus we can have a different perspective. We don’t need to focus on what will be left behind when we die; we can focus on what is ahead. Jesus wants us to live our lives with a sure and certain expectation of resurrection. Now we are to focus on our relationship with God through Jesus. Now we can focus on developing those eternal virtues, like love, kindness, and patience because these are the virtues that must become part of us throughout eternity.
This is the fifth week of Lent and it has been an odd Lenten season, hasn’t it? Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. It will also be very strange. We will not be meeting together as a church yet and there will be no palm processions together, and the following week we will not be together for any Holy Week services either. And worst of all, we will not even be able to have Easter together. And yet, despite all that, we as believers in Jesus know that this is not the final chapter, is it? Through Jesus, God has given us new resurrection life, and our lives will continue through eternity. So that even though one day our bodies will die let us continue right now to live for Christ, and let us continue right now to grow in our Christian life knowing that we will one day always be with Him. Amen