Sunday, April 2, 2017
Ezekiel 37:1–14, John 11:1–45
WHEN ALL HOPE SEEMS LOST
Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.
It was a horrifying vision. The spirit of the Lord set the prophet Ezekiel down in the middle of a valley full of dry bones. This valley was the site of a terrible battle, in which the invading Babylonian army had slaughtered so many of God’s people. As Richard Donovan explains, “the word `valley’ conveys a picture of a verdant and peaceful place. However, when soldiers are in combat, a valley can be a place of horror if the enemy commands the high ground. Soldiers on the floor become sitting ducks . . . That seems to be the case here. This valley would not be full of bones unless it had been the site of a slaughter.” Dry bones indicated that the slaughtered had been dead for a long time. Normally the dead were buried within a day. It was scandalous to leave them unburied and exposed to predators. “Nothing says `really, really dead’,” writes Donovan, “like a pile of dry bones.” It was a vision of utter hopelessness. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”
survived the Babylonian invasion, but was taken into exile. He and his fellow
exiles were desperate for some word of hope. In 37:5 the Lord God says to the
bones: “I will cause breath to enter you,
and you shall live.” The Hebrew word for “breath” can also be translated
“spirit.” And then in 37:12 the Lord God says to the whole house of
In our gospel reading from John, Martha and Mary were overcome with grief, when their deathly ill brother Lazarus died before Jesus arrived. They were so hopeful that Jesus would have been able to heal him. Jesus finally arrived four days after his dear friend Lazarus died. Martha said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary said the same to him. When Jesus saw Mary weeping, we are told that Jesus “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They said, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus himself began to weep. In that moment he shared in their deep sorrow and feelings of hopelessness. All of us who have lost a dear loved one can surely relate. Those who saw Jesus weeping observed, “See how he loved him!”
When they took away the stone, the stench of the dead body was overwhelming. But Jesus looked up, prayed to God, and then cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” He came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth, Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go.” The message of this gospel account of the raising of Lazarus echoes Ezekiel’s prophetic message: “When all hope seems lost, God breathes new life into God’s people.”
In the recent
March 29th edition of Christian Century Peter Marty retells
the story of Ruby Bridges, the first grade African American girl who walked into
Psychiatrist Robert Coles took a special interest in Ruby. He wondered how this young girl kept her bright spirit in this seemingly hopeless situation. As she walked into school one day, he noticed her lips quietly moving. When he asked her what she was saying, she told him,“I am talking to God and praying for the people in the street.” He was sure she must have some hard feelings against these people who treated her so meanly. But she said to him, “No, I just keep praying for them and hope God will be good to them . . . I always pray the same thing, `Please, dear God, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.’” Eventually some white students returned to the school, and the protests subsided. Fifty-six years later we continue to struggle against racial prejudice in our country. We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go to overcome it. Nonetheless, the story of Ruby, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement bear witness to Ezekiel’s prophetic message that when all hope seems lost, God finds a way to breathe life into God’s people.
Much has been
written in recent years about the decline of mainline churches, including the
ELCA. Membership has been falling for several decades, and the average age of
members has increased. Visit virtually any ELCA congregation in
In the eyes of
many the civil war in
Many of us gathered here today may be struggling to maintain hope for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you or a loved one is facing serious health concerns. Perhaps like Martha and Mary you are grieving the death of someone close to you. Perhaps your job situation is uncertain. Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed by the current political climate. Perhaps you are struggling not to give in to fear in the face of global terror threats. Perhaps you are filled with a sense of helplessness by the magnitude of humanitarian needs such as hunger and famine. Perhaps you are feeling more and more anxious about the threat of catastrophic climate change. Whatever may be triggering feelings of hopelessness in you, be assured of this much: Ezekiel’s prophetic message is as true today as it was in his time— “When all hope seems lost, God breathes new life into God’s people.” In Jesus’ name, AMEN.