Scripture Reading for April 10, 2011

Ezekiel 37 1:14 

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. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath* to enter you, and you shall live. I 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.’

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’

John 11 1:45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’  The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus* had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles* away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.  Martha 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.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
   When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So 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?’

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus 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 for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I 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!’ The 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.’

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

______________________________________________________________

These texts come from the Common Lectionary (schedule of Biblical readings for given Sundays) for the 4th Sunday in Lent.  Since they both have resurrection themes, they seem to be jumping the gun on Easter.   When Palm/Passion Sunday comes (next week), followed by Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we will once again be focused on the difficult journey through death that precedes the promise of resurrection.   But for now, the Lectionary gives us a pre-taste of that promise, a glimpse of what is to come.   Both passages are very familiar.   In Ezekiel we read about the valley of dry bones.   When Ezekiel spoke, Israel had been laid waste by the Assyrians.   The nation was as dead as a pile of bones.  Using the image of the bones coming together (and coming back to life), Ezekiel gives hope to the defeated nation.   In John’s gospel, we read the well-loved story of Lazarus’ being brought back to life by Jesus.  

Questions to consider:

  1. What are the “dry bones” of today – ideas or realities that seem to have died but whose resurrection we might hope for?
  2. Ezekiel is famous for imaginative pictures . . . the dry bones or (in another place) wheels within wheels spinning in the air.   What image for resurrection might speak to people of today?
  3. Do you have a personal story of being brought “back to life” when before you felt as good as dead?
  4. What might these stories and images mean to the homeless, the under- or un-insured, the despised or rejected people of today?
  5. How do these texts make you feel?   Try to describe feelings, not thoughts.

    

Rev. Dr. James  Gertmenian 
Senior Minister

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7 Responses to Scripture Reading for April 10, 2011

  1. Joan Smiley says:

    Q. What are the “dry bones” of today – ideas or realities that seem to have died but whose resurrection we might hope for? My suggested answers include an awareness that the present day USA society seems to be heavily influenced by pop culture, the sensational, and self gratification that are in essence taking the life out of or lessening the vitality of the human potential.
    A. Some of today’s ‘dry bones:
    Sense of responsibility for common good.
    Self esteem found in the intention of actions based on a desire to live with care and compassion.
    Valuing by parents and children of the many educational opportunities that our culture provides. (Why don’t many of poor and disadvantaged children see that education and the open doors it makes possible is the way to a better life and greater opportunity in the future?)

    Q. Ezekiel is known for imaginative pictures . . . the dry bones or (in another place) wheels within wheels spinning in the air. What image for resurrection might speak to people of today?
    A. How about ‘resurrection’or a renewed life based on the concept that God is like a great computer that (who) provides links (the sure path) to a life of rewarding opportunities and peaceful relations with all nations, as well as individual happiness.
    The key is that we must ask that God shows us the way to the discovery of the peaceable kingdom–and be prepared to respond as best we are able to his instructions. The 10 commandments if followed and the encouragement of Jesus to care for others would certainly help secure a more caring and just society. Perhaps this sounds too difficult to many.

    Q. Do you have a personal story of being brought “back to life” when before you felt as good as dead?
    A. Yes. Plymouth church has been with me on this journey.

    Q. What might these stories and images mean to the homeless, the under-or un-insured, the despised or rejected people of today?
    A. The role of the individuals and of caring communities, such as Plymouth, is essential in providing the welcome and necessary assistance to achieve this greater goal is already underway, However, the possibility of the ‘resurrection’ of today’s society would be expanded expotentially if the multi-faceted media of today with its potential to reach just about everyone would concentrate on providing a vision of what is possible and within reach for all and especially for eg. homeless persons when society
    is known to welcome every person and let them know that he/she is valued and is seen as important to the community.

    Q. How do these texts make you feel? Try to describe feelings, not thoughts.
    A. Ezekiel’s image of the restoration of dried bones to life anew in human form is a bit distant to me. Of course, the message of Ezekiel is that the rebirth of the people of Israel will occur because the prophet has spoken words of assurance that God is now with them and hopefully all will be well.This reading does not have a quality that I can easily relate. Perhaps further understanding of Ezekiel’s writings in imagery would help bring these texts to life and help me respond with feeling.

    A.The John 11: 1-45 text tells of Jesus raising of Lazarus from the dead and the reactions of Martha and Mary. The full reading of these passages leads me to think that Jesus self perception was first as teacher (see how he justified waiting to respond to the threat of Lazarus’ illness). However, it is reassuring to hear that when Jesus realized the anguish of Mary and Martha and he was confronted with the reality of Lazarus’s death that he too felt grief and then called upon the power of his prayer to God, his heavenly Father to restore Lazarus to life. While some may be impressed by this text Jesus’ as it shows humanity and compassion for those who are suffering, my reading seems to portray Jesus as being able to distance himself for what he sees as the greater good to be realized by his actions of waiting to respond because of his goal of letting people know how special his relationship to God was and the resulting powers this awareness brought to him.

    I hope the preaching on this story brings out the compassion and care of Jesus, not the quality of arrogance it seems to reveal. I would like to be able to feel Jesus’ humanity and compassion.

  2. Paul Price says:

    Jesus’s delay could be his relentless human-ness (relentlessly “dual (duel) natured). There is probably a relationship between being re-pelted with stones, again, and again, and forgiving seventy-seven times-though I insist on a very strong taser in my palm if there are children or others with low complicity in the ambit of my actions.

  3. Paul Price says:

    I have many dry bones in me, some that will never be re-sinewed, some I am trying hard keep from being de-sinewed, and others to re-sinew and re-flesh. I think this is true aslo of our society, and like Helen, I am angry at the conscious, irrational attacks of growing numbers on what I consider true triumphs of our country’s journey, cosciously creating bones that will make things more despiring for many.

    I, too, am often irritated at John for what I sense is his relentless drive to deify Jesus and all the trouble and often tragedy that has caused. (Yet, I confess I have not re-read and re-read and re-read him, either.) Still there is something in Jesus actions of delay (though always clothed in omniscience) and for “God’s glory,” that may have implications for my mortal limits and theater. I believe there is a compassionate force out there, of some nature, and I often wish that it would swoop in and stop everything that is wrong and hurtful and much worse, provide effortless comfort anywhere and everywhere, all the time. Not going to happen. Further, in a universe of this compassionate force, I have not found an appropriate explanation for why it would allow cancer, Nazis, child abuse, often unmitigated suffering, etc.-not an unknown and infrequent complaint. Yet, there is homage (perhaps even divine praise) to be paid to all who work-at whatever scale- to mitigate these conditions, and maybe imitate. I am also impressed at John’s Jesus saying to his dumbfounded disciples, ‘hey, yeah, let’s go right back into Judea and get pelted with rocks, again, while the spirit is still active in us.”

  4. Hazel Lutz says:

    I was not familiar with the “dry bones” passage from Ezekiel, but know the Lazarus story well. My study of the history of the Bible, related archaeological research in the biblical regions, and my understanding of how to critique a piece of literature lead me to be impatient with these paired readings—individually and in the way they are paired. I feel very impatient, even angry with John expecially. The Ezekiel passage was edited, if not written, to encourage the Jews while enslaved in Babylon far from their home (I think I recall correctly), while in the John passage I perceive not the actions and words of Jesus, but the intentions of John to write or edit a story from Jesus’ life in such a way as to prove his divinity and draw more converts to the early Christian community. It is hard to get beyond these disparities—between the two stories, and between the stories and the Biblical editors’ versions of them and the Liturgy writer’s intentions—to the true core of the stories.

    If I go beyond all that stuff, I don’t want to focus on the details of the stories themselves, other than to say I don’t believe that Jesus delayed so that he could better show off the glory of God’s actions through him.

    For me the core of both the stories, beyond their recorders’ and editors’ intentions, is the possibility of resurrection after an unhappy death. Who/what has died for me? Christian ideals in the society around me. They seem dead to many, or exist in corrupted self-serving versions. The ideals upon which our American society was founded seem under attack if not yet dead, too. Maybe it’s my senior status now (a young senior I hope!) that leads me to think in this way about my society and other practicioners of Christianity. But it just seems that we can all do better, through a resurrection of faith and commitment to Christian and American ideals. When I was younger, I did not think this way. I was caught up in a lot of the craziness of contemporary American life and I did not attend any church or practice any religion.

    The stories also say that it is through faith that the resurrection can occur. Keep the faith in “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “separation of church and state” and “democratic government of, by and for the people.” But I don’t think that having a faith that leads to resurrection will be as easy as it is depicted in these Torah and New Testament stories, where no one (dry bones or Lazarus and his sisters) is shown working; rather they are being acted upon by God. I think that if we have faith, we are inspired to speak out and act in ways that will help resurrect our society and religion. I feel that there is no other way for me to live a good and happy life except with a faith in the ideals I have mentioned, and actions as often as I can manage to match that faith.

    I can find no contemporary image in my mind for resurrection. It seems all the images around us are the bad news of parts of the world or social relations dieing, or fantasies adventures in movies and television. The first, though true news stories, is very discourageing, and the fantasies so prevalent in our society’s media today divert our attention to simplistic answers to the important questions of our time. It’s hard to get beyond the dominance of the media image factory.

    I think the most successful resurrection stories come from memoirs—true stories as remembered by the people who lived them—of individuals who have faced terrible tragedies or obstacles and entered a form of depression or isolation from society, and then somehow found their way back into positive life and interaction with others in society. Maybe it’s in each of us telling our own stories that we can share the small resurrections that occur in our own lives.

    My own resurrection occurred after the heart break of not being able to have children and divorce from my first husband. My life had seemed to come to an end, in failure. The childlessness, and inability to adopt due to my circumstances, were the hardest to get over. They continued to plague me long into my remarriage. Joining Plymouth Church provided me a place in which over a fifteen year period I have slowly come back to life and left my tears about childlessness behind, like Lazarus’ sisters leaving their tears at his tomb when they walked with him back home. I had to learn to walk back home empty handed. I met and married Tom at Plymouth, and he has slowly brought me back to a life in which I feel I am loved in a way that nurtures and sustains me. My resurrection has been long and slow, but very real.

    What I’ve just written about my own resurrection is a brief synopsis, and has no power as an image of resurrection. For powerful resurrections, read an entire memoir (150 or more pages) and you will find powerful evidence of resurrection—both the pain, suffering and death that first had to occur, then the resurrection that can only follow after such life debacles. What strikes me about such resurrection stories is the day-to-dayness of these resurrections. They can be associated with “ah-ha” epiphanies, but even those come after daily actions have prepared the individual. Biblical literary resurrections, in comparison, look easy.

  5. Charles Matson Lume says:

    I can’t help but think of Rembrandt’s etching, “The Raising of Lazarus”.

    Frankly, I like it better than the scriptures (blasphemy). In the etching, Rembrandt seems to hide Lazarus from us in the lower right corner. Lazarus is as washed out as the tomb around him. Jesus is the first thing we see in the image. He is an image of confidence. Then we next notice the people around Lazarus who are raising their arms in astonishment.

    That astonishment is something I felt last week when I saw my first crocuses of the year growing in someone’s front yard. It was so startling to me that I had to stop and really see if it was true. I could not believe my eyes. The fossilized snow (“the dry bones”) that we have all seen for the past months had finally been transformed. Once I realized the flowers where real, I raised my arms like the figures in Rembrandt’s etching, startled by the saturated color, the aliveness, the newness. Startled.

    Being without those colors for so long had, perhaps, little by little diminished my senses, my capacity to see.

    Rembrandt’s etching is theatrical like spring, or Ezekiel’s images, or raising the dead.
    I want to be startled some more.

  6. Karen Barstad says:

    The story in John’s gospel leaves me feeling a bit irked at Jesus. I’m confused by his responses to Lazarus’s death, and I wonder what message the gospel writer is trying to convey. In the first portion, Jesus learns of Lazarus’s death, and his response is to delay his journey to be with Mary and Martha. He says that this event is “for God’s glory,” disregarding the pain and grief his friends must be enduring. When he finally arrives and sees how sorrowful they are, then he, too, breaks down and cries. Where was his compassion when he was not with them? Why didn’t he go to them right away? If he knew that he could change the outcome, why didn’t he rush to make that happen so that Mary and Martha’s suffering could be diminished? I find myself feeling impatient with him. When I try to rationalize Jesus’ behavior by saying, “Well, there were probably some good things (comfort from friends, time to process the event, etc.) that came to Mary and Martha while they waited for Jesus,” that seems patronizing and clichéd. In my relationships I want to be the kind of friend who will drop everything to be with someone who needs me. I’m not seeing this in Jesus in this story. So what is this Jesus telling me about how to act, how to be a good friend, how to live a compassionate life?

  7. Marsha Hunter says:

    The story of the bones makes me feel hope in a wide-ranging way. It seems to promise resurrection for every transgression. It feels deeply personal, too, as if it is talking specifically to me. I also feel comforted, and relief that such hope exists.
    The story of Lazarus makes me feel uneasy, even when Lazarus walks out of the tomb. It is scarier than the bones story, which feels mythical and magical. The Lazarus story has human disagreement and conflict. I have always had difficulty picturing this story in my mind. Somehow I cannot set the scene visually.

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