Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Can These Bones Live?

Sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45

You know what one of my favorite things about going to the movies? It’s not the popcorn. It’s not the huge screen or the big sound system. It’s not the fancy reclining seat that I just discovered in D’Iberville. No, probably my favorite thing about going to the movies is seeing the previews.

I mean, I love them. Forget the movie you’re seeing now. Here’s an even better one coming next summer to a theater near you! And now that they release these previews online, you can see them again and again. And there’s no need to shell out 18 bucks to go to the theater.

The movie preview, or the trailer, feeds the excitement. A good trailer will show you just enough but not give everything away. It should get your pulse racing and make you want to see a little more. Even if the movie stinks, you can make a real good preview. And people will parse the thing piece by piece, frame by frame, just to get a little idea of how it will be.

The trailer for the new “Beauty and the Beast” movie, when it was released last November, broke a record with 127 million views in just 24 hours.

I don’t think I’m alone in my love for movie trailers.

So today, we get a little preview, too. Here we are, deep into Lent, we’re catching a glimpse, just a little hint, of Easter. Now, it’s not quite like that Sunday morning at the empty tomb. No flowers and lilies yet.

Instead, it’s the two earthy stories. A little grim. A little scary. Ezekiel standing before the valley of the dry bones. And Jesus calling Lazarus out of his tomb.

Ezekiel is called up by God, given this vision of a deep valley filled with bones. This is Israel, he’s told. These are the people of God. All dried up and parched. Dismantled. Lying down forgotten. Without life. Without hope.

“Prophesy to these bones,” Ezekiel is told. “Say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.”

And there before his eyes, something amazing happened: A noise, a rattling.  Sinews, and ligaments and tendons.  Muscle and skin.  Eyes flicker to life.  Spines straighten.  Hand and feet touch the ground again.

The bones come together and flesh appears on them. And they’re filled with God’s breath. And they walk and talk and sing and dance. Dry bones now full of life.

And then we’ve got this other story. Jesus’ friend Lazarus is sick. And he takes a little too long to get there. Lazarus is dead. In the tomb. And it’s already been four days. Not mostly dead. Dead dead.

You know, when I was living in the country of Georgia, their funeral practices were a little different from ours. It may be closer to ones in Jesus’ time, in fact. They didn’t use embalming or anything like that.

But the deceased would lie in the parlor of the house for three days, this three day period of mourning. And on the fourth day they would be buried.

And not to get too graphic or anything, but person who has been dead for four days doesn’t really look like they’re just sleeping. And the funeral flowers that fill the home are not just there to look pretty.

So the point is, Lazarus is not going to be bouncing back from this anytime soon.

But not if Jesus has anything to do with it. He stands at the threshold of the tomb. And with a loud, clear voice he commands: “Lazarus, come out.”

These two stories are not the same as a resurrection. It’s not yet Easter, after all. Ezekiel’s prophesy is a mystical vision which we can pull a lot of different meanings from. Lazarus, if we’re being technical about it, was a resuscitation. He was revived, but he’s still mortal. He’ll be back in the tomb in due time.

But though these stories, the resurrection, Christ’s resurrection is starting to come into focus. And it is something different. Something grander. Something more powerful. Jesus emerges from his tomb different, glorified, beyond the limits of our understanding. And in two weeks, even as we shout and sing and bust out that A-word once again, it will remain shrouded a bit in mystery. We haven’t yet fully experienced it.

But that’s okay, because we have these two amazing previews. And through all of their beautiful strangeness and the suspense, we begin to understand how God turns things around. And it’s not just stories: There are times in our lives when God takes something dry and broken and forgotten in our lives and restores it, puts it all back together, puts flesh on it, breathes new life into it. And there are times in our lives when Jesus and those we love stand at the entrance to whatever tomb we’re laying in and call us—commands us—to come out. And eagerly wait to welcome us back to the world of the living.

So we get a preview today. But here’s the thing: The movie is already in theaters. It’s already playing. Resurrection doesn’t just happen on Easter Sunday.  It is happening today, at this moment, in this church and out there, all around us.  Even when we’ve lost all hope.

As we prepare to begin that journey with Jesus next week through the streets of Jerusalem, as we shout our hosannas, as we wash one another’s feet or hands, as we gather around the cross and remember the sacrifice—we remember that there is always life in the midst of death…these bones do live.

Jesus gives us the ability, the imagination, to see the possibilities in the world.  We have hope that though things may seem dried up, though it may be a pile of lifeless bones, there is hope there is promise.

Come out, he says. Come out and see.

Can these bones live? Yes they can. And yes they do.