Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A   23 comments

Above: The Raising of Lazarus, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

These Bones Can Live Again Or, Some Good Deeds Do Not Go Unpunished

MARCH 26, 2023


Ezekiel 37:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me,

Mortal, can these bones live?

I answered,

O Lord GOD, you know.

Then he said to me,

Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me,

Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me,

Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,

says the Lord.

Psalm 130 (New Revised Standard Version):

Out of the depths I cry to you , O LORD.

Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you,

so that you may be revered.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,

and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!

For with the LORD there is steadfast love,

and with him is great power to redeem.

It is he who will redeem Israel

from all its iniquities.

Romans 8:6-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 11:1-45 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,

Lord, he whom you love is ill.

But when Jesus heard it, he said,

This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having 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 trying to stone you, and are you going there again?

Jesus answered,

Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.

After saying this, he told them,

Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.

The disciples said to him,

Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.

Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly,

Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.

Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples,

Let us also go, that we may die with him.

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus,

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.

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. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

She said to him,

Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately,

The Teacher is here and is calling for you.

And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him,

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said,

Where have you laid him?

They said to him,

Lord, come and see.

Jesus began to weep. 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 have kept this man from dying?

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said,

Take away the stone.

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him,

Lord, already there is a stench because 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 looked upward 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.

When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice,

Lazarus, come out!

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in 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 Jesus did, believed in him.

The Collect:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


My soundtrack for the writing of this post is part of Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony #2, the “Resurrection” Symphony.  The work is not Christian, and Mahler was at best a nominal Roman Catholic who converted from the Judaism he did not practice, either, to get a job.  But the man wrote wonderful music.  The portion of the “Resurrection” Symphony which attracts me now is the Urlicht movement, a soul-melting contralto solo, the lyrics of which (in English translation) follow:

O red rose!

Man lies in direst need!

Man lies in deepest pain!

I would rather be in heaven!

I came upon a broad path:

an angel came to me and sought to turn me back.

Ah no!  I would not be sent away!

I am from God and to God I will return!

Dear God will give me a light,

will light me to eternal, blessed life!

Then the final movement begins.  When the soloists and choir members sing the words (again in English translation) include:

Rise again, yea, thou shalt rise again,

my dust, after brief rest!

Mahler’s symphony concerns a dead hero who awakens in Heaven, so the context is somewhat outside the reading from the Johannine Gospel, but some of it works well, anyhow.

The author of the Fourth Gospel wrote of Jesus raising his good friend, Lazarus, from the dead.  The long portion of John 11 in the Revised Common Lectionary has a happy ending.  But read the rest of the chapter.  Some of Jesus’ religious enemies conspire to have him killed because of fear that spreading faith in Jesus will bring down the wrath of the Roman Empire on Judea, and it was allegedly better for one man, not a nation, to die.

The placement of this Gospel reading at this point in the lectionary is appropriate, for the next Sunday will be Palm (Passion) Sunday, the opening of Holy Week.  At this point in the church year the short countdown to the crucifixion of Jesus has begun.  The foreshadowing, present in some of the canonical Gospels since the birth narratives, will yield to unfolding drama and a climax.  The author of the Markan Gospel, the first of the canonical Gospels written, believed that the role of the Messiah was to suffer and die, not to be the conquering hero to expel the Roman occupiers and restore Israel to its Davidic glory.  New Testament scholars call this Markan view the Messsianic Secret, for, according “Mark,” whoever he was, the death of the Messiah revealed the identity and true function of the Messiah to all who paid attention.  Think of it this way:  Messiah 101 is that he must die.  But he has to die before this becomes readily apparent.  Writing of this nearly 2000 years later it seems obvious, but this was not the case at the time.

O, just one more thing.

There is a Medieval Roman Catholic tradition which states that Lazarus and his sisters became evangelists in Provence, France.  I do not know if the reality behind the tradition is fact or fiction, but I am certain of one proposition:  I would tell people that Jesus had raised me (or my brother, if one assumes the point of view of Mary or Martha) from the dead.


Written on June 19, 2010


23 responses to “Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A

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