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MEDITATIONS ON THE LECTIONARY

DURING THIS TIME OF COVID-19, Join us Sunday Mornings as we explore and reflect upon the elements of the Sunday Lectionary.

Last Sunday

4 Lent: We heard the story of the prophet Samuel anointing David and Jesus healing the man "Blind from Birth." 

In 1 Samuel 16.1-13, we learn that "the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

And then in John’s Gospel [John 9.1-41]  the disciples finally begin to ask Jesus the really tough questions, like….why does evil exist, where does it come from, and why do some people suffer?  In reality, Jesus never answers those types of questions; he simply acts to heal the brokenness of the world.  

This Sunday, 5 Lent

Today is the 5th Sunday of Lent and we have pivotal theological readings from Scripture.  Our Old Testament passage about the “Valley of Dry Bones” comes from the Prophet Ezekiel and is perhaps one of the better known passages, if only because children often learn the song: “Them bones, them bones, them dry bones…the foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone’s connect to the leg bone….,” and so forth.

Yet as my seminary professor of New Testament noted: Ezekiel’s vision and prophecy provides the “down payment” on the Resurrection of Jesus.  Hear again, the essential Promise made by God to the Prophet Ezekiel: “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from your graves….I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…. And you shall know that I am the Lord.”[Ezek 37.12b;14;13] 

Likewise, the gospel reading for this last Sunday in Lent foreshadows the Resurrection as we look toward the events of Holy Week and Easter.  As the last of the “signs” in John’s Gospel, the public ministry of Jesus comes to a dramatic conclusion with the raising of Lazarus.  As the Gospel passage begins, Jesus receives a message that Lazarus is ill.  Although Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, are beloved friends of Jesus, he delays going to them for two days, saying: “This illness does not lead to death,” but is for the “glory of God and the Son of God.”[Jn 11.4]  When Jesus is finally ready to depart for Bethany, his disciples try to stop him, reminding Jesus of the previous attempts on his life. [v.8] 

Only our beloved patron, Thomas, vehemently vows to accompany Jesus—even to death: "Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [v. 16]  For Thomas, it is better to walk with Jesus and to be in danger with him, than to find safety in separation from him.

When Jesus later declares to a distraught Martha: “Your brother will rise again.” [v.23], Martha takes his words as standard teaching [from Ezekiel] that the righteous will be raised in the “resurrection on the last day.”[v. 24]  Jesus then answers that he himself is the Resurrection and those who believe in him will never die(vv. 25-26).  In other words, the future expectation of life "in the age to come" is a present reality in Jesus.

When Jesus then asks Martha if she believes that: “in him death is conquered,” Martha cannot yet confess such faith; but she can claim her belief that Jesus is the Messiah, “the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” [v. 27]  

What are the implications and meanings for you in these passages
  1. As you read the Gospel passage, imagine that you are present as the events unfold.  Pay particular attention to the reactions of Martha and Mary throughout the story.  Although they have faith in the healing power of Jesus (Jn 11.21, 32), what keeps them from fully comprehending who Jesus really is?  

                  a,   What do we understand the meaning of Jesus’ life and ministry to be today?

2.   What do you think it might have been like for Lazarus after Jesus called him out of the tomb? 

3.   As Lazarus emerges from the tomb, Jesus tells the others to: “Unbind him, and let him go,” [v. 44].   What things are binding you in your own life?  

                  a.  How are we liberated from them by our faith in Christ?

 4.    The words of verses 25-26 are some of the most familiar in Scripture and are read as part of our funeral liturgy.  As you read these words again in the context of the raising of Lazarus, how is Jesus “Resurrection and Life" for you?

 

For the Biblical Scholars, a more in-depth task:

The story about “Raising Lazarus from the dead” is unique to John’s Gospel, but does Jesus raise anyone else from death in any other Gospel?  If so, who and where?

How does raising anyone from the dead [i.e., Lazarus] differ from the Resurrection of Jesus?

In John’s Gospel, “Raising Lazarus from the Dead” has a direct impact on what then happens to the life and ministry of Jesus.  

  • How does this event differ from the Synoptics [Matthew, Mark, Luke]?  
  • What singular event occurs in the Synoptics leads to the same place in the life and ministry of Jesus?  
      • Hint: John’s different plot line more or less “rejoins” the major Synoptic narrative in the following places: 

                        Matthew 26:1-5

                        Mark 14:1-2 [but go back and add Mark 11:18]

                        Luke 22:1-2 [but go back and add19:47-48]

And remember,

"Prayer" can lead us to a place of redemption....redemption in the awareness of God's presence above us, alongside us, and in us.  For God is with us!