Engaging the Word: 4/2/17 (The Fifth Sunday in Lent)

Posted by & filed under Engaging the Word.

 By Barbara Klugh

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. Our texts this week reveal the power of God to bring about restoration and new life.

Ezekiel’s vision from Luther Bible, 1534. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ezekiel’s vision from Luther Bible, 1534. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ezekiel 37:1-14: Ezekiel was a temple priest who was exiled to Babylon in 597 BC along with three thousand other leading citizens. Five years later, God called him to be a prophet to his fellow exiles. Ezekiel not only reminded the people it was their disobedience of God’s laws that led to the exile, but he also offered hope for the restoration of Israel and the temple.

Ezekiel experienced several fantastic visions during his lifetime. In this week’s reading, Ezekiel records a vision in which God transports him to a valley filled with dry bones. God asks the prophet, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel responds, “O Lord God, you know.” Following God’s command, Ezekiel first prophesies to the bones that they will live, and he hears an increasing loud rattle. The dry bones begin to move and come together as skeletons. The skeletons grow tendons, muscles, and skin. Then Ezekiel prophesies to the four winds and the breath came into them, “and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”

This vision is intended to provide the exiles with hope. God will bring the dispirited Israelites back to their homeland. “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.

As we know, God is still acting. Whether as individuals, communities, or nations, again and again, God takes us when we’re dry, broken, in exile, and despondent and breathes hope and new life into our gloomy and miserable souls.

Illuminated Bible c. 1410

Illuminated Bible c. 1410

Psalm 130: Our psalm this week is one of the seven penitential psalms, and begins with an individual’s heartfelt prayer to God—waiting for and trusting in God’s mercy. “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord hear my voice.” In the last two verses, the psalmist transitions from an individual prayer to a message for all people, “O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy.”

Here is a lovely video of Psalm 130 sung in Anglican Chant by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

Romans 8:6-11: Chapter 8 is about Life in the Spirit, and is a summing up of Paul’s argument thus far. In this week’s lesson, a selection from Chapter 8, Paul differentiates between living in the Spirit and living according to the flesh. I read in a commentary that by “flesh,” Paul is not referring to our physical bodies but to our fallen human nature. “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” When we trust in Jesus, we are new creations—we are given the gift, the grace, and the power of the Holy Spirit so we are day by day being transformed to live holy lives. The Holy Spirit not only strengthens us, but we will be raised from the dead at the end of time.

Raising of Lazarus by Colin of Amiens, c. 1450. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Raising of Lazarus by Colin of Amiens, c. 1450. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

John 11:1-45: Recorded only in the Gospel of John, this week’s reading is the story of the raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. It’s the final and greatest sign in John’s Gospel.

Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was ill. But Jesus says, “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.” So Jesus remains where he was for two more days.

After this Jesus tells his plans to visit Judea (where Bethany was located), but the disciples are concerned that it’s too dangerous. Jesus is not deterred because he intends to “awaken” Lazarus. When they arrived, Lazarus had been entombed for four days, and many friends have come to console Mary and Martha. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again….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.” Martha then informs Mary of Jesus’ presence.

Mary knows that if Jesus had arrived sooner, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. When Jesus saw Mary and the other mourners weeping, he began to weep also.

They came to the tomb, and Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” When they took it away, 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.

Following our reading, we learn that the raising of Lazarus prompts the Pharisees to call a meeting of the council, and leads to the crucifixion of Jesus. They were afraid of Jesus’ growing following, “So from that day on they planned to put them to death.”

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