by Linda McMillan
In this fifth weeks of Lent I can see that spring really is almost upon us. Lent means spring, remember. I am ready for spring – the brightly colored flowers, the birds greeting me each morning. Ah! It’s going to be great.
In the lectionary readings appointed for this morning, though, we are not greeted with flowers and birds. Instead we’ve got a rotting corpse and a pile of bones. It’s not very inspiring.
There are similarities in the readings. You can hardly miss them. Just as Jesus in the gospel of John has been going around doing things to prove who he is, Elijah’s God is also eager to let people know that he is Yahweh. And, just as dead old Lazarus will come out of his tomb, the dry bones of Israel will become covered with flesh and they will even breathe again.
Despite the similarities there are differences too. For one thing the writer of John probably wasn’t crazy and Elijah almost certainly was. Lazarus was just one man, Ezekiel had a lot of dry bones. Lazarus had only been dead a few days, the dry bones… well, quite a while. Lazarus was surrounded by mourners. The dry bones had been abandoned. Lazarus went on to live a long life, the dry bones? It doesn’t say.
Still, they are great spring-time stories of… Well… The thing is, these stories are not about new life. The spring-time images of new flowers and baby birds don’t fit. Both Lazarus and the dried out bones in the middle of Ezekiel’s valley aren’t babies. These bones have lived before, and now they are dead –Well and truly dead.
Israel had more of a history than Lazarus. We know what happened to Lazarus. He died. Jesus made him alive again. Israel, though, had experienced two waves of captivity, the destruction of the temple, and the desolation of being cut off from their God.
I can’t speak about dying and finding new life. I don’t find that my pain has made me stronger. Nor have I received any kind of “gift” from it. There have been some things which didn’t kill me, and also didn’t make me stronger. I wish people would stop saying stuff like that. Let’s face it, life can leave you weak and half-dead, trapped in death clothes that won’t come undone. So, I can’t say much about Lazarus, except that lots of people will take away the false hope of new life from another story designed to prove who Jesus is… and not to do anything else. Like the other stories that prove who Jesus is, it’s about Jesus. It’s not about you.
What I can speak to, though, is dry bones which lie around in the desert being scorched by an unrelenting sun season after season. In this story, no one mourns for the lost lives or the dreams and hopes that died in that valley. It has all been abandoned and forgotten.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes it is hard for me to remember my dreams, the things I hoped for in my youth. Like so many bones they lay forgotten, brittle and dry, on the floor of a valley somewhere far away.
The good news this morning is not about resurrection, or that Jesus is the lord of life and death, or even that spring really is coming… though, it is. The good news is that of all those dried up old Israelite bones, one man remained to call them back to life.
If you are not feeling reborn today, you’re not alone. There is a great cloud of witnesses in the dry bones of Ezekiel and the scattered hopes and dreams of thousands. The spirit energy that gets blown away by the harsh desert winds of life might return. Ezekiel is here to give us hope.
Just as Jesus didn’t enter Lazarus’s tomb, no outsiders came to witness the destruction of Israel. It was one of their own who called them back to life. And so it is with us. There will be no rescue. We are on our own. The very hard work of coming back to life after the world has dealt us a blow is up to us.
Like crazy old Ezekiel, though, there is the slim hope that we might screw up our courage and call all that is lost back to life.
Be brave. Speak boldly to the parts of yourself that have died. It is possible, if we are crazy enough to believe, and brave enough to do the work… It is possible to live again.
Linda McMillan lives in Yangzhong, China
Image: Reliquary of Lazarus found in Marseilles
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Lent is an old Teutonic word. It means spring.
In John 4 Jesus showed that he was the living water. In Chapter 6 he showed that he was the bread of life. In Chapter 9 he showed us that he was the light of the world. Elijah, also, spends a lot of time helping YHWH prove that he is who he says he is
Ezekiel 20:42… Then you will know that I am the LORD,
John 11:42… That they may believe that you have sent me…
Interestingly, Ezekiel almost didn’t make it into the canon of scripture!
Ezekiel experienced “flights” into Jerusalem. He enjoyed writing about sexual desire and fondling a little too much (chapter 23). He didn’t seem troubled when his mother died, refusing to mourn. And then there were the visions of wheels, wild visions, fiery wheels. Oh, he was nuts.
The Eastern Orthodox churches teach that Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha left Judea and travelled to Cyprus where Lazarus became the first bishop of Kition and died of natural causes in 63 AD – 30 years after he was resurrected (according to St. Epiphanios of Cyprus). The tomb of Lazarus can be found in the city of modern-day Larnaca.
The Western Church has Lazarus and sisters coming to Marseilles to preach the gospel and where Lazarus became a bishop. According to The Golden Legend – a medieval compilation of the lives of the saints by Jacobus de Voragine, Lazarus was captured and beheaded during the Christian persecution by the emperor Domitian. His body was supposedly taken to Autun in eastern France and buried under a cathedral there while his head remained in Marseilles as a venerated relic.