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Can these bones live? (part 2)

14 April 2011


 “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he 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 seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him”

A reading from the Gospel according to John, chapter 11, verses 1-45, English Standard Version.


Jesus stood before the tomb of his friend Lazarus and literally ordered him out of the grave. “Lazarus, come out.” When it comes to dealing with the dead, Jesus doesn’t wait for an invitation or a prayer. He isn’t polite with death or with unbelief. He deals with them as if they were sleep, as if raising the dead were nothing more than rousing someone from a nap. In fact, Jesus had told his disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep, but the disciples thought that Lazarus was catching up on his sleep, which would be good for his recovery. With Jesus, death is nothing more than a kind of sleep, something to be awakened from by His word. So when Jesus says, “Lazarus, come forth.” Lazarus gets up and comes forth.

That same bone-rattling, sinew and skin-creating, life-breathing, corpse-raising Word gets preached into our ears week in and week out in the Liturgy. There may be some Sunday mornings when we are nothing more than a valley of dry and dead bones piled onto padded pews. But if that’s good enough for the prophet Ezekiel, who am I to ask for anything more? You’re feeling dead this morning. You were out too late last night. The baby kept you up. You have work on your mind. Or play. You can’t wait to get out of the Church building. So what. But never mind all that. Hear the Word of the Lord and live.

I sometimes want to laugh when I hear people tell me that historic Christianity is dead. “Oh, you’re a Episcopal priest. They use Prayer Books, & hymnals and liturgies. Episcopalians are all dead.” …Well, maybe so. But it isn’t because of our prayer books hymnals and liturgies. Those are things that draw our attention back to what gives life. No, it’s because of our inherent sinfulness that we are dead. And the good news is that Jesus delights in forgiving sinners and raising the dead. It’s what He died on a cross and rose from the dead to accomplish. Forgiving sinners and raising the dead are precisely what the Spirit does whom Jesus sends with His words. He raises us from the death of our unbelief and breathes the new life of Jesus into us.

Once we were dead in our sinfulness, objects of God’s wrath, separated from God by Adam’s rebellion. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”

Once you were dead, as dead as those dry, brittle bones on the battlefield. Dead in sin. Dead to God. Dead to His Word. Dead in disobedience. Without Christ we are breathless and lifeless and hopeless. Without Christ we are nothing more than bones awaiting the burial. But now, by the gift of God, you have been made alive in Christ Jesus through His Word and Spirit. In Holy Baptism, God breathed and worded new life into you with the water. St. Paul calls Baptism a washing of regeneration and renewal; a new birth and new life. Adam is buried; Christ is raised. The sinner dies; the saint rises. Can these bones live? Oh, they most certainly can. In Jesus.

In Holy Absolution, the spoken forgiveness of sins, God breathes and words new live into you, speaking your sin to death and speaking your death to life – “I forgive you.” In the Holy Supper, again God breathes and words new life into you. “This is my body given for you.” “My blood shed for you.” “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Jesus will raise you up, you who have His Baptism, His forgiveness, His body and His blood given and shed for you, His word in all its wonderful ways. Can these bones live? Oh, they most certainly can. In Jesus they can.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. He is your resurrection and your life. “He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” There isn’t a corpse around that won’t sit up and take notice when Jesus speaks His word. Not in the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel preached to. Not at Lazarus’ grave. Not in His Church. And not at your grave on the Last Day.

Can these bones filled with cancer, filled with fear, filled with pain, filled with sorrow and suffering, filled with doubt and death, can these bones of ours live? Can our bones live even though we die? Oh, they most certainly can live. In Jesus these bones of ours live now and they will live forever.

“Then you, my people, will know that I am Yahweh, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit-breath in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken and I have done it, declares Yahweh.”

Ezekiel points Israel’s exiles to the resurrection. Israel would again rise again as a nation one day. And it did, some fifty years after the prophet Ezekiel. Israel had to rise for God had spoken. His Word and His deed are one. When God says it, it is as good as done. Israel had to rise so that the Christ might be conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born in Bethlehem. So that He might go to his battlefield at Calvary. So that He might be God’s Lamb, the perfect unblemished sin offering for the world. So that his unbroken bones might be nailed to a cross and laid in a tomb. So that His bones might be raised to life again.

St. Paul writes in the epistle from Romans: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.” That’s the promise of God made when He baptized you. Those bones of yours will live, because Christ lives, and you have your life in Him through faith in Him.

That’s also how St. Paul can also write that our present sufferings, the difficulties we experience now in our bodies, “are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” We are on our way to the resurrection. The body that God created, the body that God redeemed in the body of His Son Jesus on the cross, the body that God has named and claimed as His own temple in the water of Baptism, He will also raise on the Last Day without spot, without blemish, without sin, without disease, and without death.

It is a real body that God will raise from the grave. The vision of Ezekiel tells us so. Eternal life with God is not some disembodied existence of free-floating souls. It is genuine flesh and bone, sinew and skin, bodily life before God in His presence. That means that what goes on with our bodies here now matters to God. Our bodies are not some kind of disposable container for the immortal soul, like a soda can that is discarded when its empty. Our bodies are important to God. He created them. He cares for them. He protects them. He permits nothing to happen to them outside of His will to save them.

God washes and anoints our bodies with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism. He feeds into our mouths the Body and Blood of His Son in the Sacrament. He speaks forgiveness into our bodies through our ears. Our bodies, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, are His temple, instruments for righteousness, tools in His hand to work His will. We glorify God in our bodies because God has already glorified our bodies in the body of His Son Jesus. And He will glorify our bodies anew in the resurrection on the Last Day when Jesus speaks His Word and blows His living breath, and we rise to live forever with Him.


Can these bones live? Yes, they most certainly and surely can live. And will. Where the Word of God is preached and heard with the Spirit of God, dry, dead bones rise up and live. God has spoken, and He will do it. Trust Him to do it. You have His Word and His Spirit.

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