“The only certain thing in life is death and taxes.” This is an old adage that some of us may have heard before. For those of us living in the USA we are in the time of the year where we are reminded of just how certain taxes are. Our text options for this Fifth Sunday of Lent contain images of death, which according to the old adage, is the other certainty in life.
The gospel passage tells the familiar story of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, becoming ill and eventually dying. Martha had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill, however Jesus remained where he was for two more days. When Jesus arrives at Bethany Lazarus is dead.
Our Old Testament text gives us the familiar scene of Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones. The Spirt of the Lord lead Ezekiel to a valley where there are many bones lying on the ground. Can you imagine Ezekiel’s initial thoughts? I doubt he found the Valley of Dry Bones to be encouraging. In reality, it was simply a reminder of Israel’s current situation.
I’m thankful that in both stories death doesn’t have the last word. Lazarus is called out from the grave when Jesus commands him to “Come out!” The Spirit of the Lord commands Ezekiel to prophesy and tell the bones that they will receive breath and live. The bones began to rattle and came to life. In both cases God – the I Am – speaks life. In both cases we are reminded that we serve a God who is in the business of breathing life into that which is lifeless.
Death is a tough thing. Spiritually speaking, we are called to die to self so that the spirit of Christ can reign in us. Physically speaking, death brings sadness and is a cold reality of our mortality. However, in an interesting twist, it is because of death we have life. Death brings life because death did not (does not) have the final word. The empty grave on the third day reminds us of the power of God which conquers death. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the same power that raised Christ from the grave is the same power that wants to raise us when we die to self. We can experience resurrection and new life! Our sin – which is death – doesn’t have to be the last word…we can experience new life.
Physical death is an unwelcome reality that we are mortals. Those who have lost loved ones know the pain of this unwelcome reality all too well. Thanks be to God that physical death does not have the last word. Today’s text gives us hope in Jesus Christ who is the Resurrection. Today’s text gives hope that death will not have the last word. Our loved ones who died in Christ understand this reality already. May God’s grace be with us here and remind us of the hope that we have in Christ.
Because of Christ we can echo the hope of the Psalmist who said, “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”
Rev. David Snodgrass – Lead Pastor – Camden First Church of the Nazarene – Camden, SC