Monday, March 27, 2023

Perpetual Resurrection


Resurrection takes many forms. Religiously speaking, we associate resurrection with the bodily raising of Jesus or others and with the general resurrection of the dead on the last day. Through the Apostle’s Creed and other affirmations of faith from the most ancient to the most modern, the Church affirms that we believe in and anticipate the resurrection of the body.  

Our religious views of resurrection point us to continuing regeneration in every aspect of our lives. New beginnings emerge from every ending. The affirmation of resurrection becomes an affirmation of life itself and the power of life over death in every circumstance. We can only “die daily,” as Paul declared (1 Corinthians 14:31 KJV) if we also are resurrected daily. The Bible uses physical resurrection as a metaphor for spiritual renewal. 

Manuscript of the sermon preached on March 26, 2023, at Briensburg UMC   [Audio Podcast] 

Bible Readings for the 5th Sunday in Lent: 
Ezekiel 37:1-14;  Psalm 130;  Romans 8:6-11;  John 11:1-45
[Video of readings by Briensburg UMC lectors

Some things are hard to believe.

And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:26 KJV)

The familiar miraculous Resurrection of Lazarus took place a short time before the Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus ascended to Heaven after his resurrection. Eastern church tradition says Lazarus died again while a bishop in Cyprus; Western church tradition says he was martyred while serving as a bishop in France. Both traditions protect tombs and relics associated with their respective burial places.  (“Lazarus of Bethany.” Wikipedia. Web. 25 Mar 2023).

There is a certain comfort inherent to believing in eternal life.  Believing that we “shall never die” assures us, not only for ourselves but for our friends and families, that our lives and loves and friendships and kinships extend beyond the grave. During the forty days between Easter and Ascension, the church’s lectionary Bible readings historically focus on the ways Jesus taught and demonstrated life after death. Specifics are largely omitted, freeing us to explore and discover through love and friendship and our own spiritual experiences of what, as Paul phrased it, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV).

There is a certain joy that comes with believing in eternal life. The thought of being reunited in Heaven with each other and with those who have gone on before us and those who will come after us fills our hearts and minds with happiness and hope. We are inspired by the sense of presence among us of those who, as Charles Wesley wrote “sing the Lamb in hymns above and we in hymns below” (“Happy the Souls to Jesus Joined,” Charles Wesley). Many of our favorite hymns lift us in celebration. My favorite hymn is “When We All Get to Heaven” by Eliza Hewitt. We all share countless hymns about Heaven because they paint vivid imagery and rouse feelings of closeness to our loved ones who continue to live just over the proverbial Jordan River “In the Sweet By and By.”   William J. Irons wrote in his hymn,

Sing with all the saints in glory,
sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth's dark story,
to the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking,
soon the storms of time shall cease;
in God's likeness we, awaking,
know the everlasting peace.

Do you believe… Can you believe… the extraordinary promises Jesus declared at the tomb of Lazarus? Do you, can you, believe all the other extraordinary promises of Jesus in the Bible?  Do you, can you believe, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28 KJV)? If we do -- if we can believe such promises, then the same hope permeates all our circumstances, relationships, and opportunities.

Everyone experiences the grief the Psalmist expressed.

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.    (Psalm 130:1 KJV)

Today’s Gospel reading reflects the grief of Martha and Mary and the other friends and relatives of Lazarus at his death.  Out of those depths came the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35 KJV). From those depths with which we all can empathize also came some of the most comforting words in human history. In the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus forever transformed death into life in the event superseded only by his own Resurrection.

Likewise, all our darkest moments in life contain within them the possibilities for transformation. How many people have cried out to the Lord in their most desperate and challenging situations and found strength and guidance?

God can revitalize any person or situation.

Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God… (vs 13) And [I] shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.     (Ezekiel 37:12-14 KJV)

God gave Ezekiel the resurrection of the dry bones as a metaphor for bringing Israel back to life as a nation and returning them to the Promised Land. The prophecy of dry bones coming alive still calls the church to continuous spiritual renewal. When we as individuals or as a congregation, as a denomination or the whole Body of Christ come to challenging moments, the prophecy encourages us to let the spirit breathe new life wherever and however it is needed. The Spirit transforms what may appear to some as a sign of decline and death into a sign of regeneration and never-ending life.

The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives within us and among us.

But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.  (Romans 8:11 KJV)

The same Spirit who moved on the face of the deep at Creation moves among us today to transform the chaotic waters of life in our generation into the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23. The same Spirit who brought the dead to life in the Valley of Dry Bones continues to revive and renew us and our church in every dimension. The same Spirit who was poured out at Pentecost continues to be poured out on us and our friends and neighbors across our community and around the world.

There is hope – always hope – because of the Spirit who continuously revives us like the Spring after Winter. “Behold, I make all things new” says the One that sat upon the throne in Revelation 21:5. As we near the end of our Lenten renewal and as we prepare to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, let us reflect on what the Resurrection of Lazarus means for us in this life and in the life of the world to come.  James Rowe wrote in his hymn,

O, the joy of the souls that victoriously sing
In the beautiful land of the glorious King,
Where the blooms never fade, where it always is Spring,
In that bright Immortality Land.

Many loved ones are there, and their faces all shine
In the light of the love of the Master divine;
There are dear ones of yours, there are dear ones of mine,
In that bright Immortality Land.

We shall all soon be there with our trials all o’er,
With the sages and saints on that beautiful shore;
There the One that we love, we shall see and adore
In that bright Immortality Land.

Immortality Land, Immortality Land
It has mansions of light, it has palaces grand!
O the joy that we’ll share when we all gather there
In that bright Immortality Land.

 In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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