“No Resurrection Without Death”


Lent 5

April 2, 2017

 

Text:  Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45; Romans 8:6-11


    There is no resurrection without death.

    This statement is ridiculously obvious.  Yet it seems to me that some people don’t fully acknowledge this fact.  Some people seem to want to celebrate the resurrection at Easter without acknowledging the reality of the death that came before it.  Or they want to sanitize death rather than face its brutal reality.  Some have even gone so far as to claim that Jesus wasn’t really dead--they claim he only appeared to be dead, maybe drugged.  But that claim is overruled by the historical evidence.  Jesus refused painkillers on the cross.  Furthermore, crucifixion and the scourging that typically preceded it was such a savage form of bodily mutilation that no human being could possibly have survived it.  Many Roman criminals died of the scourging before they even got nailed on a cross.

    There is no resurrection without death.

    The prophet Ezekiel had a vision in which he was placed in a valley full of dry bones, the bones of soldiers who had been killed in a battle many years before.  They were as dead as dead can be.  He was asked, “Can these bones live?”  After answering, “Lord, you know the answer to that question,” he witnessed the bones coming to life and being refleshed, then reanimated by the breath of God blowing into them.  Through this vision, God told Ezekiel that his defeated, discouraged people would live again.

    We also read about Jesus raising Lazarus from death.  Lazarus wasn’t just sleeping or in a coma.  He was really dead.  He had been dead four days.  His body had started to decompose.  It was one thing for Martha to affirm that there will be a resurrection on the last day.  It was much harder for her to believe that resurrection is a present reality, for when Jesus ordered the tomb opened, Martha protested that the smell would be horrible.  Yet Jesus demonstrated that he is the resurrection and the life.  He demonstrated God’s power over death by raising Lazarus back to life.

    Now of course what happened to Lazarus is not our normal experience.  I recall a number of years ago officiating at a graveside service for a man who had been shipped back home for burial from out of town.  At the graveside, the man’s son asked me if I would pray that if it was God’s will, that his dad might be raised as Lazarus was.  (Yes, we sometimes get some really weird requests in this business.)  I did pray the prayer, although I did so with no confidence whatsoever that God was going to answer it in the way the man’s son hoped.  And I have heard no reports of anybody busting out of any graves in that cemetery.

    There is no resurrection without death.

    But if we aren’t raised like Lazarus was, how do we share in Jesus’ resurrection life?  Let it be noted that Lazarus was resuscitated.  His corpse was brought back to life.  Jesus was not resuscitated, but resurrected (yes, there is a difference).  His risen body was both similar and different than a resuscitated corpse.  For instance, although he could eat and be touched, he could also appear and disappear at will and enter locked rooms without opening the door.  And then that risen body ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God, the place of power and authority.

    But that’s not our experience, either.  So what does it mean for us to share in Jesus’ resurrection life?

Remember that after Jesus rose and ascended to heaven, he sent God’s Holy Spirit to live in his followers at Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ resurrection life living and working in us.  

The Apostle Paul wrote that our human self-centeredness leads to death.  That selfish attitude is hostile to God and is unable to submit to God.  If we are to live resurrection lives in Christ, our self-centeredness must die so God’s Spirit can be at the center of our lives.  We must die to self so that we can live in Christ.  As Paul wrote, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.”

This week a friend on Facebook shared an old preacher's take on the story of the raising of Lazarus, as follows:  

"Church, Jesus said, 'Lazarus, come forth.' And he did. BUT HE STILL HAD HIS GRAVE CLOTHES ON!!!

If you're not living into that resurrection life it's not because you're dead. It's because you refuse to take those grave clothes off!

Stop living like you're dead and throw those old garments aside and LIVE!!!"

 

There is no resurrection without death.  We cannot experience the resurrection life until and unless we die to self-centeredness and selfish desire, until we throw off the grave clothes of the ways of death, and make Jesus Christ and the resurrection life he has for us first and foremost in our lives.  When that happens, his Spirit lives in us, guides us, and encourages us as we do the work God has called us to do.  Let us throw off our grave clothes, turn away from selfishness, and turn toward God.  Amen.

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