Lively Bones

Jn. 11:1-44

“Ezekiel connected them dry bones, Ezekiel connected them dry bones, Ezekiel connected them dry bones, Now hear the word of the Lord.” When I was a youngster, back in the 1940’s the Ink Spots used to sing this song on the Jimmy Durante show (radio). It is a great song. It speaks of Israel’s despair and being defeated by its enemies. Ezekiel in his apocalyptic vision proclaims that God will breathe new life into Israel and into His people.

The nation will rise. The people will rise. At the end of time there will be a final resurrection of the dead.

A great statement of faith and of hope.

For the Christian the resurrection is an individual phenomenon as well as something at the end of time. Christ’s own resurrection assures us of eternal life, individually with Him and we will join the communion saints in eternal life. In our creeds we speak of the resurrection of the dead, and we believe in a physical resurrection as well as a spiritual one. For the Christian body and soul and closely joined.

Now I am going to tell you three stories. The first is about a ten year old girl.

Twenty years ago I was working as a chaplain at Stamford Hospital. I got a call one night at ten o’clock to go up on the second floor. A young girl had stopped breathing and the doctors and staff were frantically trying to get her to breathe. (I think she had cystic fibrosis, but I am not sure. Anyway she had aspirated.) The mother was hunched over in the corner and the father was standing in the doorway. He was four inches taller than I; about twenty pounds heavier, a state trooper and had a huge canon on his hip. The trooper was frantic. In order to reduce the tension and get some more space in the crowded room, I took him by the arm and lead him down to the end of the hallway, where we said a prayer. When we were finished he pointed to the room and said, “Go in there and pray for my daughter!” The doctors and staff had stepped back from the girl and were shaking their heads sadly. They couldn’t get her to breathe. I lay my hands on her head and prayed. Then I turned and left. As I went out into the hall someone exclaimed, “My God! She’s breathing. The girl recovered. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

The next day, I said to my supervisor, “I’ve got a problem. This girl was either dead or dying and I prayed for her and she recovered.” My supervisor said to me, “What did you expect?” It was a testing of my faith. “As a priest you are called to witness to life: physical life and spiritual life. Life in the here and now and eternal life.

You are to witness to the power of healing in the ordinary and the extraordinary — in the medical and in the spiritual. You are to witness to the raising of the body and the raising of the spirit. You are called to witness to miracles in Christ Jesus.”

Now for my second story. Ten years ago, the historian, William Manchester, had open-heart surgery. During the surgery the doctors discovered a bullet in his heart. He had been wounded in the Pacific in World War Two, treated by the medics and sewn up. No realized that there was a bullet still in him. For fifty years he had been walking around with a bullet on his heart.

That is an incredible metaphor for the human existence.

You and I walk around much of the time with a bullet, or at least a burden on our hearts. It may be grief over the loss of a child, a parent, a friend or a sibling. It may be resentment over ill treatment, or it may be the trauma of emotional or physical abuse. It may be problems with substance abuse, infertility, mental illness, the debilitating illness of a loved one. It may be the loss of a job or loss of one’s home.

In each of those situations there is a crying need for the breath of life, for healing and for hope. The spirit (soul) yearns for new life. The body resonates with the crying need of the spirit (soul).

And now for my final story, the story of the raising of Lazarus. The name “Lazarus” means, “God is my help.” It is the same as the name, “Eleazar”. (1) St. John tells us that Jesus was called to tend to his friend, Lazarus, who was on his deathbed. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days. Note the details in the story: stone, stench, bands of cloth. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It is a miracle. Jesus was known not only as a teacher, prophet, rabbi but also as a healer and miracle worker. (There were people like that in His time.) But the story is remembered because it echoes the raising of the dead (Ezekiel’s Dry Bones) and the prophecies of Elijah that the coming Messiah would heal and raise the dead.

The Lazarus story fore shadow’s Jesus’ own death and resurrection and the promise of Jesus of eternal life for those who believe in Him. It also underlines the close relationship between physical resurrection and spiritual resurrection: that the material and physical are inseparable.

As part of the Church you and I are called to give life. We are called to give life through love of God and of one another and through our lives, as we witness to the challenge and the assurance of the Gospel message.

As part of the Church you and I are also called to receive life. We are called to receive life in our bodies and in our souls. We receive that life thorough the power of the Holy Spirit (in baptism), through hearing the Word, through the sacraments (particularly the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist) and through our participation in the life of the Church (the communion of saints).

Eighteen years at St. John’s has shown me that body and spirit are inseparable, that the here and now is inseparable from the when and then (the future and eternity). I have seen new life in the lives and in the bodies of countless worshippers as they have passed through the doors and the liturgy of this church.

It is the call of the priest and of the layman to witness to new life Ð in body and spirit, in the now and in eternity, which we share in Jesus Christ. The opening acclamation in the burial service in The Book of Common Prayer states what I am trying to say.

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he life; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself, for if we live, we live unto the Lord; and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors. (1)


(1) Barclay, William The Gospel of John, Volume 2, Westminster Press, p. 81.
(2) BCP. p. 469.