Sermon: “A Preview Of What’s To Come”
Lectionary Series A; The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 29, 2020
Old Testament Reading and Gospel Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
At a time where most everyone is shut in their house, one of the things that people are finding enjoyment in doing is watching movies. Certain companies have even gone to early releases of movies to provide entertainment to housebound folks throughout the country.
I come from a family that loves to watch movies, and so it goes without saying that I really love watching movies as well. But you know what? Almost as much as I love watching movies, I love watching previews to see what the next movies will be that are coming out. Perhaps you’ve heard me say this, but my younger brother used to joke that he would love to watch a movie of just previews. Two hours of solid previews. Just think of that!
Now the whole point of a preview is to pique the viewer’s interest, to get them excited about what is to come. There are just enough details given to draw the viewer in, but just enough left out to leave the viewer hanging, just begging for more.
Today’s texts from the books of Ezekiel and John in many ways could be viewed as a preview. There is more than enough to pique our interest and get us excited. And they certainly leave us hanging, begging for more. And this isn’t the first time this has happened in recent weeks.
Transfiguration Sunday gave us a preview of Jesus arrayed in all of His glory. There Jesus was on that mountain arrayed in light as bright as lightning. To think of how one day we will behold Him in that same way, in all of His glory, certainly leaves us hanging, begging for more.
As we look at today’s texts, they are a preview, and they are perfectly timed right before we enter into Holy Week. Next week, we will witness Jesus enter into Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna; He will host His Last Supper with His disciples; He will be betrayed by one of His own disciples; And then, He will die a horrific death on a cross before He rises from the dead in glory and splendor. But for today, we just get a preview. Jesus gives us a preview of what’s to come. Today, we hear of how our God holds the power over death, and it is truly something to behold.
Just think about Ezekiel from our Old Testament reading. How morbid and depressing it must have been to walk through that valley of dry bones. The wind blowing through carcasses, the rattling of bones in the breeze. It makes one shudder just to think of it. If this was a preview of what was to come, then the outlook was downright hopeless. But then God spoke to Ezekiel: Son of man, can these bones live?”
Now anyone in his right mind knows that no bones can live again. Dead is dead. But then God had Ezekiel prophesy. And then as the song from Sunday school goes: “Them bones, them bones, they gonna walk around, so hear the Word of the Lord.” By the very Word of God, them bones…came to life.
What would that have been like, to have been in Ezekiel’s shoes, or sandals rather? To hear the rattling, to see the bones come together, to see the forming of sinews, flesh, and skin form upon what used to be a skeletal corpse. What would it have been like to hear the breath from all four winds…north, south, east, and west and witness life come into this exceedingly great army?
Here God gives a preview of His ultimate power over the grave, that one day all will be raised from their graves just as He told the prophet Ezekiel to prophesy: Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:12-14).
Now think about the hopeful impact that these words of God prophesied through Ezekiel had in the lives of Mary and Martha in our Gospel reading for today. Think about what it meant to them to know that God has the power over death and the grave, that He would raise His people from the dead. Just think about how much it meant to them to have that preview of things to come embedded in their hearts and minds as they laid their dead brother to rest in the tomb.
Here Lazarus had been in the tomb four days, but the intensity of the grief still weighed heavy. Tears still abounded. And not just in Mary and Martha and those gathered with them, but Jesus too. We heard in the text that Jesus wept as well. Jesus is not immune to the hurt that death renders. He loves us far too much! But that does not mean that He shies away from the valley of the shadow of death either.
Jesus came on the scene of that valley of death and immediately Martha came to him and what ensued is perhaps the most beautiful exchange in all of Scripture.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give it to you.” 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. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world” (John 11:21-27).
Talk about a preview of what’s to come! Little did they know, what Jesus was about to do for them at that very moment. Jesus came to the tomb. There was a stone that lay against the opening. And He said, Take away the stone. And though people feared the stench of death, they followed His command, and He said, Lazarus, come out. And out he came, alive and well. Death had been defeated.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, these texts are a preview, a foretaste of the feast to come. And what greater comfort could there ever be in our lives with all that is going on around us? Since we last worshipped together, the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic across the globe has arisen. Lives continue to be lost. Loved ones continue to say their goodbyes. And sorrow and grief continue to grow in the hearts and minds of people everywhere.
For those of us who have stood by the graveside of a loved one at any time in our lives, we can relate. We know intimately the frailty and fragility of this life. We have felt to our core what it means that we are truly dead in our trespasses and sins. We have experienced the weight of the wages of our sins. Death darkens our days like nothing else does. But knowing that God has given us a preview of the resurrection brings light to even the darkest of moments we face, pandemic or otherwise.
It will not be long and we will enter into the week that is called Holy. Jesus, who had set His face toward Jerusalem, would enter into that city and do the unthinkable. He willingly and voluntarily laid down His life of His own accord. He suffered and died. Out of His depths, He cried out (Psalm 130:1) from the cross. He pleaded for mercy (Psalm 130:2), and got no reply. He breathed His last breath and gave up His Spirit before His body was placed in the tomb. And the stone was rolled in front of it.
But just as we saw in the preview with Lazarus, the stone had no hold over the grave. By the power of God, who holds sway over the grave, He bid His Son to come out. And out He came to bring life and light to us all.
It is as our Epistle reading states: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11).
This is the hope of Jesus that we have been given as baptized children of God. Our bodies will not be held in the grave because the Spirit of Jesus dwells within us. We who face the reality of our own mortality will not be held in our tombs. God’s Word proclaims this very resurrection truth to us here today.
And if we think the preview was good with Ezekiel’s prophecy and Lazarus’ resurrection, just wait until our day comes. On the Last Day, it will be a great and glorious day. There will be no more tears, no more pain, no more viruses or diseases, no more fears or anxieties. All those things will fade away as the beauty of the light from the Son of God takes over. For there before us will be Jesus. Our Savior. Our Lord of lords. Our King of kings.
You see, unlike previews at the movies where we don’t know how the real show goes and how it ends, Jesus’ tells us how the end of the story will turn out. Trumpets will sound, Jesus will descend, graves will be opened, we shall rise, and we will always be with our Lord.
Be comforted on this day as the frailties and fragilities of this life are present all around us as we endure this pandemic that this will not be the end of the story. Our God has given us a preview of the glory that is yet to come thanks to Jesus who endured the cross and came forth from the grave for us.
And while you are thinking about that beauty that you will one day behold, take time to consider who might also need to hear this good news of great joy. Now more than ever is a time for the Church to rise up and reach out to those who need it. Start by giving them a preview, pique their interest, and then tell them the whole story. For His story is our story, and He has graciously given it to us to share…to Share Hope and to Teach Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.