Fifth Sunday in Lent- Deacon Gill- April 2, 2017

Lent 5

April 2, 2017

Four years ago Rod and I visited Peru. Our first stop was in Lima where we visited, among lots of other places, the Saint Francis Monastery. It is two blocks away from the President’s Palace and right in the heart of historic Lima. The Monastery of San Francisco is a colonial church dating back to the 18th Century. At ground level you’ll find a library of more than 25,000 antique texts, including the first Spanish dictionary published by the Royal Spanish Academy and a Holy Bible from 1571.

But it is what lies beneath that draws so many visitors. Lima’s first cemetery was the catacombs below the monastery. The catacombs remained in use until 1808 when a city cemetery outside of Lima was founded. And  it wasn’t until 1943 that the catacombs were rediscovered. It is estimated to contain 70,000 burials. Not complete skeletons but all neatly sorted. One room filled with skulls, another tibias, and another ribs. You get the picture. Bones of the bodies that were placed within the old church to decompose, all separated out.

Today we hear from the prophet Ezekiel and he tells of a time when he was in a valley full of dry human bones and God asks him “Mortal, can these bones live?” That was a question I asked myself in Lima. Room after room of lifeless dry bones. Once they had been alive and today they are still and nameless. Can these bones be alive? Only God can answer that question.

We need a brief history lesson here. After the Chaldeans conquered Jerusalem in 597 BC, the Jews were forced to relocate in the city of Babylon. Among those exiled was Ezekiel..

The passage we hear today is the 3rd  vision that the prophet Ezekiel has while in exile. “The hand of the Lord came upon me” and he is transported by the spirit of the Lord to a valley with old dried bones all around him. The Lord orders Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones resulting in the bones being RE-membered, that is bound by sinews, RE-fleshed, covered with skin and animated by the spirit. God has the final say and his will is going to be done and the corpses will come alive. A breath like the wind, like the life giving ruach that God breathed into Adam will enter and they will stand tall once more.

The vision is metaphorical and we are told its interpretation. “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” Not just the fallen kingdom of Judah but the northern kingdom as well…. the whole house of Israel. The bones are a picture of  the Jews in captivity scattered and spiritually dead. And God promises them “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil.”

So what does this mean for us today, the 5th Sunday of Lent in 2017? We began this season being called to introspection. Through prayer, fasting, humility and giving of ourselves we were called to do a spiritual health check.  We had to ask what dry bones and walking in the wilderness valley are represented in our own spiritual lives. And can we learn from our findings and discover more about ourselves. Do we study the scriptures regularly and with meaning? Is our prayer life healthy? Do we listen to God? What is our relationship with God?

Ezekiel’s vision is given for those who may have lost heart. All of us have dry periods in our lives when we have doubts, or depression or spiritual deserts or fear or anxiety. We have to deal with those conditions. We have to learn from them. We cannot just sweep them under the mat and hope they go away.

However the good news of this metaphor is that the spirit of God blows over all of us if we just open ourselves to it. The love that God has for us will transform us and heal us. Do not look at yourself just with your limited vision. See what God sees. Did I believe that the bones I saw in Lima were alive?  No. Not through my eyes. But through God’s eyes anything is possible and what seems dead can come alive. His spirit will blow over us and will heal hopelessness and we all need to hear that. Ezekiel’s message is as relevant for us today as it was when he lived. God not only gives life but also restores and resuscitates life.

We asked ourselves in the passage from Ezekiel ‘are these bones alive’ and in the passage from John we can ask ‘did the raising of Lazarus really happen?’ Here we are invited to consider resurrection.  This week we are being introduced to the idea because the story of Lazarus immediately precedes the week leading to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We hear from John that Jesus is informed by messengers that Lazarus is ill, and that his two sisters are seeking his help. He tells his followers that he intends to wait for Lazarus to die. He then delays for two days. The disciples are afraid of going to Judea, but Jesus commands them to go with him, stating “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.’

Jewish custom at that time required that burial take place the day of death. Jewish belief also held that the soul lingered near the body for 3 days so that death was truly final on the 4th day. Jesus’ 2 day delay plus travel days would make 4 days.

By the time they arrive in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. Martha, a sister of Lazarus tells Jesus that if he had been there in time her brother would have been saved.  If this had been the case this whole episode would have been a healing miracle instead of showing the disciples and us, Jesus’ power over death. We humans have a hard time believing without actually seeing. So Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” They took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said: “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 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.”

In the Gospel of John we hear of signs rather than miracles. Normally a sign points to something beyond itself. Jesus came to live and die for us so that we can understand the message that God made the world and everything in it out of love. In the northern hemisphere we have come out of winter and we are looking forward to the resurrection of slightly warmer weather. Well maybe not July and August in Houston. But so it is with the message of birth, life, death and resurrection. New creation emerges around us. Do we see the proof in which God is doing a new thing?  Resurrection is happening and it is like looking for the first buds on the trees and the bushes coming alive with their flowers.

Through God’s eyes anything is possible and what seems dead can come alive. His spirit will blow over us and will heal hopelessness and we all need to hear that. We are Easter people and we believe that God is always working some new grace of creation out of death and destruction.

Service Schedule

Sunday Services
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite I
9:15 a.m. Christian Formation
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite II

Weekday Services
Wednesday 12:00 p.m. Holy Eucharist


St. Paul's Episcopal Church
5373 Franz Rd
Katy, Texas 77493
(281) 391-2785

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