The walking dead

Scriptures: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

I don’t know if you ever tried to visualize that vision of Ezekiel that he had when he was told to prophesy to the bones. In the 1940’s, a group called the Delta Rhythm Boys composed a song called “Dem Bones,” based on the Ezekiel passage read today.

Now, I happen to love that song, and a group called the Plainsmen Quartet did a wonderful arrangement of it. So I’d like you to listen to that today.

Listen to them here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9swztI5m0k0

Wouldn’t it have been something to see those bones connected, the flesh put back on, the breath given to them, and then the bodies walking around? Would it have been a message of hope, as was obviously intended from that passage? Or would it have been more likely to terrorize those who saw it?

The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows in today’s culture. It’s about a post-apocalyptic world where some disaster has struck. I’ve only watched a few episodes, and zombies abound. They want to eat all the remaining humans.

Similar movies have been made, over the decades, from Night of the Living Dead to the Resident Evil series. Always, we seem as a people to be fascinated with what happens after death.

Now, the Jews had an interesting understanding of life after death. The soul of those who passed on could remain as long as two to three days after death, if there was something unresolved. Then they went to sheol, sometimes referred to as “the pit” by David.

It’s not a place of punishment. It was a place of holding, until the day of resurrection and the judgment on the day of the Lord. At that time, all would be raised again, go before their maker and be judged for all time. Those who passed muster would go to heaven. Those who failed would go to hell.

In our Gospel passage today, Jesus gets a message about Lazarus while traveling. Knowing that Lazarus is dead already, Jesus waits a couple of days, to the initial confusion of his disciples, and then heads out.

He arrives at the tomb, and Mary and Martha get word. Martha, ever the more confrontational one, comes out and yells at Jesus. She knows he could have healed Lazarus, had he been there. Jesus makes an interesting comment, as he says, “Your brother will rise again.”

Now Martha interprets that in a very traditional Jewish way and responds, therefore, saying, “I know that he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.” But then Jesus makes the curious statement that would have been completely surprising to them.

He says, “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.” He asks if Martha believes this, and when she says yes, she then goes back home and retrieves Mary.

After they have their interaction, Jesus commands the grave to be opened. Over the protests of the women, in a very practical sense, as they say, “Don’t open the door. It’s been four days and he’s starting to smell.

Jesus then prays for the sake of the listeners and commands Lazarus to come forth, which Lazarus does. What is so cool here is that this is no zombie. Lazarus has been raised, resuscitated if you will (since he does die again), but he is truly alive, even as were the soldiers in Ezekiel’s vision.

Now, we could stop here and just marvel at this miracle. But I think that there is actually another point to this while story, one indicated by what Jesus said to Martha. When Jesus spoke of giving eternal life, he obviously meant more than just life in heaven after the day of judgment.

He speaks elsewhere in John, in chapter ten, that he has come that we might have life – and the tense of the verb tells us that it is now, and that we might have it more abundantly, now.

In our passage in Romans, we can see that Paul, too, thinks of that life as now. Remember that he is speaking to Christians in the church of Rome. In the verses after the passage we have read, he does have one line warning people in the church about their own actions. If they act like the world and think on the world, then they are also dead even if they think they believe.

But in this part of the overall passage we read today, he seems to be talking about non-believers. Those who don’t have the Spirit of Christ long after the things of the flesh, and are dead even though they may live. Walking around, they are just a bunch of dry bones inside, needing the living water.

Like the zombies in Resident Evil, even though they don’t need to eat, they are consumed by hunger. As Augustine once said, they like all of us have a God-shaped hole inside that only He can fill.

Those who don’t believe try to fill it with everything else of this world, and can never succeed, though they continue to move deeper into the flesh and its desires, like an addict in his drug of choice. They are the walking dead, though they don’t know it.

So what are we to do? As we move through this world of walking dead, what are we to do? Well, first Christ, I believe, and then Paul, give us our answer today.

We need to believe first that the Lord Jesus is the source of our life, the living water that restores our souls and the bread of life that feeds us. We need to keep our minds fixed on Christ and the Spirit, so that we continue to live the abundant life, that testifies to the truth of what we believe.

Even in times of trial and struggle, God makes a way for us to live joyfully. I think you all proved that as a church and community of faith, here with this latest project that you’ve had. In less than eight months, you raised the funds necessary to break ground for this new building.

And this is so, even as small a church as you may be, even though there were also other expenditures, not just the normal ones but with the fire that caused more work to have to be done.

We can live that same kind of faith in our day-to-day lives as well, if we keep our minds fixed on Christ and the Spirit. We must share with others, then, the good news of the Gospel, and people’s need for salvation through Christ.

Reinhold Niebuhr was a theologian, and he once had a sort of an example, and he said that there are three ways that you can live, in regards to the world. One is that you take the position of the world and you follow its paths, and you follow its ways, and you go with the flow.

The second one is that you live in opposition to the world, and you oppose the world in all of its ways, and you set yourself up as a stone to be stumbled over.

The third one I always found interesting. He said you can live in what’s call apposition to the world. That is, you take no account of the world, because you are of the Spirit and you live a life that testifies to God, side by side with the world.

Just by your very presence, the world is condemned, as they see what a life of the Spirit is supposed to be like, and recognize their own shortcomings, their own dryness, their own lifelessness.

It’s an interesting concept that I think Paul speaks to here, as we live a life that testifies to Jesus in our hearts, and the love of Christ in our spirits. We’re strengthened for this work through the sacrament of Communion, as we remember the body broken for us, and the blood shed for our sins.

It’s a sort of a reality check for us, to make certain we remain in the Spirit, as we look at ourselves during Communion and make certain we are right with God.

Once right with God and strengthened by His Spirit, we can begin to speak to the truth, prophesying as Ezekiel did, though by our very lives rather than words, to the world around us, and helping others to know our wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ.

As Lent begins to draw to a close and we approach the celebration of Easter and the redeemed promise of life eternal, as Christ wins his victory over sin and death itself, I challenge you to reach out and share this with at least one other who does not know Christ.

Bring them to church the next couple of Sundays. Make sure they know the love of Christ from you and can see it. Be urgent and passionate in your sharing of living waters, that they might be the walking dead no more, but have eternal life as well.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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