The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath“ enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus“) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then 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?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Sounds like how we are feeling in this Valley under the dark shadow of COVID-19.
‘Bones’ here means your structure, your form as a human being. Bones are the last part of you to turn to dust; the essential lasting you.
The prophet hears the cry of the people – our very self feels dried up, our form as Jesus’ church seems gone. We have no structure; seemingly, no life; we are a Valley of dead, dry broken bones head for the dust.
We cannot rattle ourselves into shape and grow some new flesh and blood. We cannot return ourselves to life in this Valley.
But then the Prophet hears those rattling bones….
“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army”.
God ‘breathes life into the slain’. But how and how now?
There was a woman named Mary who anointed the Teacher’s body for impending death. One night, Mary wept over him – washing his dirty feet with her hair.
Then her brother caught the disease. Lazarus has got more than a bad cold. If they had an ICU, he would in it.
We are seeing this now. We are feeling this; enough to even pray like we mean it.
We say, with Martha and Mary, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
“Jesus, this world and our country and community is sick. We are under the darkness of threatening illness, financial ruin and even death”.
Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death”.
Thy could not see this. We struggle to see this now. It is hard to hear this promise, hard to trust the one who says it, hard to rest in his words.
As they did, we panic. “Why don’t you DO something, Jesus!”
Jesus hears of his friend’s serious illness, but chooses to “self-isolate” with his mates for two whole very long days.
We panic a bit more: “If you are not going to do something, then I will. I am going to the shops to buy not just two trolleys of supplies, but two new freezers to put it all in! And blow everyone else. ‘Each man for himself’, I say!”
In the panic and the need, he finally speaks:
“Lazarus is dead”.
No one had to tell him of this death. He knows things about sickness and death they don’t.
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
‘Fallen asleep”? Death is just sleep? Death is temporary? Death still has hope of living? This Barossa Valley of the Shadow of Death is still the Barossa Valley of an army of new people raised to life?
Yes. The one who has been prepared for his own death (by Mary) now arrives at his friend’s death to deal with this one death and point to the end of all death.
He feels this with us. Jesus weeps. I hear him weeping with us now.
This is not enough for some. They are ‘crocodile tears’, they say. He healed easier things – blindness, speech, legs, arms….. Why didn’t he do something straight away and fix this disease? If he can’t deal with this, he is not the real deal!
And then it happens.
When they can’t see. When they cannot trust. When they feel their bones are dried up and formless, when they are isolated and socially distant, all they can do is weep in pain and doubt, Jesus breathes the promise.
“Take away the stone,” Jesus commands.
He knows what they don’t. He does what they can’t. He loves like they need.
Despite the stink, the defilement, the doubt and angry grief of those he loves, he loves.
“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
“Lazarus, come out!”
Can you hear those dead bones rattle and feel the Spirit breathe? The Valley of the Shadow of death springs to a Valley of Jesus’ resurrection life. And it starts with you now.
Death IS sleep. Death IS temporary. Death IS still hope of living. This shadow will lift. It might be lifting for you now.
Yes. Yes! It is all of that. It still hurts. But that is all it does. Death hurts but does not kill.
How can this possibly be? Because of him:
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
Friend, the stench of dark disease and death is upon us like those ugly little spiky floating balls representing this virus with which the news people keep overlaying all their news stories!
Into our Valley of the shadow of death comes this weeping man of love who will go on to disarm sickness and death for all God’s creation once and for all.
He can deal with this because he is the real deal. He has dealt death the killer blow so that it does not have that killer blow for you and me anymore.
So, in your forced isolation when you say, ‘Our bones as people and as church are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’;
When all you can see and hear are people grasping to escape the threat without him and his resurrection from death as they hoard and worry and give in to panicky anxiousness or play it all down and declare themselves to be immune from this for whatever reason;
When you are weeping; when you are worried; when you feel dead as a door knob as you lock the doors of your house and wonder what on earth will become of you and all that you know; he does it.
He breathes his breath of peace into you by his Word, as he did in that baptismal water. As he did then, he speaks your bones back to life today. He shows us we still have form, his form, his shape, his life, his hope.
He asks a simple question of you today:
“Do you believe this?”
“I am the resurrection and the life”.
“I am YOUR resurrection and life”
“I am this community’s resurrection and life”
“I am this country and this world’s resurrection and life”
Friend, wait on him….
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
People of God, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
He himself will save his people. (Psalm 130)
Jesus says to you now, “Take off the deathly grave clothes and breathe new again.”