Can These Bones Live?

Can These Bones Live?
John 11:33-44
Rev. Dexter Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
March 26, 2023

I want to give a little recap of what has happened in the first 32 verses of this chapter. Jesus was summoned by Martha and Mary because Lazarus, their brother and Jesus’ friend, was dying. However Jesus does not go right away and Lazarus dies in the waiting. Then Jesus finally leaves the safety he has and comes to them, facing the wrath of Rome and the Roman co conspirators. Jesus arrives as the friends and family are mourning Lazarus. Jesus is confronted by Martha and Mary. Martha’s profound profession of faith and Mary’s tears inspire our scripture today. Hear now John 11:33-44. 

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 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 upward 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.” When 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.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

Last year, our denomination, the PCUSA, voted to divest from five fossil fuel companies because they were not moving fast enough away from the destructive and extractive industry they are in. One company that was not removed was ConocoPhillips because people believed they were doing enough change to make a difference. This name might ring a bell because they are the company behind the Willow Project which was recently approved by President Biden, breaking a campaign promise and creating the largest ever oil drilling on federal lands. This happened even though 5 million people signed a petition asking him not to. This happened even though the native tribe closest to the drilling begged them not to. This happened even though nearly every scientist agrees that we need to cut emissions in half by 2030 not increase them. And this is not the only project approved for extracting on federal lands recently. It is situations like these that cause me so much despair and hopelessness. 

So I echo the prophet Ezekiel lamenting and wondering, “Can God raise these dead bones?”

I love this passage from Ezekiel that Jo read for us this morning. “Can God raise these dead bones?” Ezekiel writes to the people of Israel who have faced so much suffering and death. They have been conquered again and again. They have been enslaved. They have had everything ripped from them. Can you imagine being an oppressed people and hearing someone talk about resurrection? Can you imagine hundreds of years of systemic exclusion and thinking about life returning to your bones? Can you imagine what you might be feeling in the face of this much death and hopelessness? You might also ask “Can God raise these dead bones?”

Which is why this John passage is perfect for today and for those feelings. Because before Jesus weeps, which is so famous, Jesus snorts. Yes, you heard me correctly, snorts. In the first sentence of our scripture it says Jesus was deeply moved but this would be way better translated as snorted. Everywhere else in Greek literature this verb is used for horses making that snorting sound. And I could not imagine a better sound from Jesus in the face of impossible hope. Jesus snorts because this situation is unbelievable and hopeless. Jesus snorts because death is an affront to life. 

This, to me, is such a relatable feeling. In the face of so much pain and suffering, in the face of so much hate and falsehoods, in the face of systematic barriers, what else can we do? To me it feels like that snort that surprises you because someone just said something so outlandish, so unbelievable that there is no possible way it would ever come true and you snort. The Mariners will win the world series. Racism will be ended in our country. War will cease to exist. Snort. How can we hope? “Can these bones live?”

This is the space that Jesus enters. Jesus returned from a safe space far from the center of power and returned to Jerusalem knowing that there were people searching for him to kill him. Jesus came back despite threats to his safety. Jesus came back to face off with death. All in order to offer us something that we have lost. Hope. Life budding from death, hope. Life having more power than death, hope. Life overcoming hate and violence, hope. 

This last week Spring started. Winter is over. Life is coming. You can see the trees start to bud. You can see little green shoots coming up out of the ground. So in the face of hopelessness and death, Jesus snorts. In the face of despair, God has created the perfect reminder so that we never get caught in hopelessness. Our world is designed to not let death win. God created a world that is in tune with this hope. The only question left then, is: will we tune into that hope and live as if it were true?

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