"From the Pulpit" - Reflections on the Weekly Texts, from Pastor Greg, at Living Lord Lutheran Church
Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is a promise that Israel as a nation, though dead in exile, will live again in their land through God’s life-giving spirit. Three times Israel is assured that through this vision they will know that “I am the Lord.” 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. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I 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.” (partial text.) John 11:1-45 Jesus is moved to sorrow when his friend Lazarus falls ill and dies. Then, in a dramatic scene, he calls his friend out of the tomb and restores him to life. Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus 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.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.
BTW, before I begin, both of the texts above are a partial reading from Ezekiel and John's gospel. You can check out the entire reading of them both.
So here's one for you. When you hear the words "resurrection of the body", what comes to mind? Remember, we say that every Sunday in our Creeds..."I believe in the resurrection of the body." What image do you have of this? You in your work suit, tie, shoes neatly shined? You at the beach in swimwear and flip flops? Maybe you're thinking about what you look like in your new golf outfit. Is this what you think of when you think of resurrection of the body? How old are you in this resurrection? Are you fit? Younger? Just as you are now? All blemishes and bumps and warts gone? Hair permanently brown, or black - anything except gray?!! Maybe you've lost a few pounds from your "earthly life". After all, you want to look good for the reunion with others, right?
Frankly, to the Jew then and now, most didn't, and don't contemplate life beyond the grave. When you die, you're pretty much iput n a box, in the ground, and that's it. This text from Ezekiel is one of the very few mentions of life after death in the Hebrew bible (Old Testament.) There are references to Sheol, a place where the dead go, but it's not a huge theological concern for our Jewish friends. Life and all its blessings belong to the living - things like longevity, prosperity, a large family, land, and the like. God's blessings are upon you in the here and now. Lutherans actually believe much the same thing - baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ himself, God's blessings are here...now. And not some place far away. We would call this "incarnational" theology - God indwelling with us in the person of Jesus Christ. God in flesh, etc.
I'm not an archeologist, but I do know that there were, in and around the time of Jesus, folks who recorded the atrocities of Roman rulers at the time, who punished law breakers not just with execution, but execution by dismemberment (I know, it sounds gross!) And I mean being hacked into little pieces, eaten by lions, and other gruesome means, so that the body could no longer be distinguishable, with the remains often washed down the sewer. Think of (sorry for this)...cubed ham, for example, that's how thorough these executions were in many cases. And then, imagine this, after the lion had eaten the offender, the lion was then often killed and eaten for a meal, meaning that the human was "dismembered" twice. It was part of the Empire's attempt to be assured that any sort of "bodily resurrection" as Jesus may have preached, could not...would not be possible. Can God restore the body in such horrific cases? Does God have the power to recover and actually reassemble these (now) minute human particles into fully restored and functioning people again? Wow. Our Ezekiel reading says that God, with Exekiel's help, does just this - restores the dry bones of a dead Israel.
So enough for the graphic details. The point is, how do you square that phrase that rolls off our tongues every Sunday, "I believe in the resurrection of the body"? In the two texts above, we don't actually know what these restored bodies from the bones of Israel looked like - we presume they came back to some semblance of what and who they were in life, picking up where they died, for better or worse. And in our gospel, Jesus raises Lazarus, restoring him (presumably as he was before he died), to his community, with Martha and Mary. I say all of this just to make a point, that we so often take for granted much of what we read in Scripture, without giving it much thought. But think about it. Where do you come down on all of this?
Here's where I am on this. Just as God made Adam and Eve in the garden, even though I believe that story to be allegorical rather than factual, I do believe that God has the power to reconstitute us from however many number of pieces we were in, or from whatever former state we were in (poverty, prison, imprisoned in a body that is malformed, flawed and all, etc.) into new human beings. Intact. Complete with our own unique memories, personalities, and the like. I have no claim on knowing whether or not this is true, just as you or anyone else doesn't. But this is what I choose to believe. It leaves me with a sense of hope that there is life beyond the grave...beyond our earthly "homes" (our bodies.) I AM also reminded that we play no role whatsoever in this "resurrection of the body", whatever that looks like for you. We are completely and totally dependent upon God, through Christ's resurrection, to make this all happen.
So, what do YOU think about this? I'd love to hear from you on it. I pray that you will give it some thought as you read and/or heart these texts read this Sunday, or whenever you have time.
1. Mortgage burning party tomorrow night (Saturday night!) We'll be officially burning our mortgage tomorrow evening at a party at the church at 5:30. Big celebration giving thanks for our getting out of our indebtedness (some $285,000.) Money we can free up to do ministry, etc.
Hope to see some of you on Sunday. Bring a friend!
"Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord"
"Spirit of the Living God"