No More Dead Ends

Lent 5A – No More Dead Ends

April 10, 2011

Ezekiel 37:1-14

John 11:1-45

 

The movie “Brian’s Song” was a favorite of my sisters and me for years.

We’d sit glued to the TV set with a big box of tissues on the coffee table.

The film is based on football players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo;

None of us really liked football – but the movie was less about football

than about relationships and loss.

And we’d start to cry right from the opening line, when the narrator’s voice said,

“Every true story ends in death.  And this is a true story.”

 

Every true story ends in death.

And this is a true story.

 

Every true story does include death…we know that.

But the screenwriters of “Brian’s Song” were wrong –

True stories don’t end in death – death does not have the last word.

Here’s the punchline for the message for today:

Because of Jesus, there are no more dead ends.

Webster’s dictionary has two definitions of a ‘dead end.’

The first of course describes  a dead end street.

 

But I’d like to talk about the 2nd definition.

This one says that a dead end  is:

“A position, situation, or course of action that leads to nothing further.”

A dead end is where things come to a complete stop,

finish, close, terminate, halt – period.

 

We have just heard two readings today about death.

And neither of them are about a dead end.

In neither of them does death have the last word.

There is no period at the end –God continues to act after, beyond, and despite death.

 

In the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel,

We hear about the prophet wandering into a valley of bones.

The bones have been dead for so long they’re dried out.

 

In the New Testament reading from John,

We hear about Jesus wandering into Bethany to the tomb of Lazarus.

He’s been dead for so long, he’s starting to decay –

And Martha imagines he’s starting to smell pretty bad.

 

For Ezekiel, the valley of death is the death of a nation;

The people of Jerusalem have been defeated in battle.

For nearly two years the Babylonians assaulted them.

The temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed.

Those who have not been killed are forced into captivity in Babylon.

The prophet Ezekiel himself – the one who is supposed to bring them God’s word in all this-

is in exile too – a priest without a temple.

 

His people are defeated, destroyed, decimated.

They are dry bones lifeless in the valley.

 

For Mary and Martha, the valley of death is the death of a relationship;

Their brother Lazarus who has been greatly loved has died.

The one person whom they thought could help – Jesus – doesn’t show up until it’s too late.

They feel lost and abandoned and are mourning in the deepest of grief.

 

Life seems like it has reached a dead end for both the nation and for the brother.

There doesn’t seem to be anywhere else for them to go;

As Webster says, they’ve reached a point which leads them to nothing further.

It’s a dead end.

It’s one of those true stories which have ended in death.

The dry bones of a nation sit in a valley.

The mummified remains of a man lay in a tomb.

Jerusalem is destroyed.

Lazarus                 is dead.

Period.  Stop. Finish.  End of true story – and its ending is death.

 

Except…except that it doesn’t end that way!

(Remember our punchline…”Because of Jesus, there are no more dead ends.”)

 

God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?”

And Ezekiel replies, “You know Lord.”

And God says, “You better believe they can!

Once my Spirit-breath gets into them they will come to life again.

And the people of Jerusalem will do the same.”

No dead ends here.

There is life beyond death.

 

Jesus asks Mary and Martha, “Where have they laid Lazarus?”

And  they take him there.

And Jesus says, “Lazarus come out!”

And he does – grave clothes and all.

No dead ends here either.

Once again, there is life beyond death.

 

Because of Jesus, there are no more dead ends.

Death is transformed into life.

A nation is reborn.

A man is given his life back.

 

Most, if not all of us, have faced death in some way already.

If not persons we love, we’ve had hopes and dreams that have been lost and buried.

We’ve had relationships that are now gone – failed marriages, estranged children.

We’ve experienced the loss of a position or of our health or of financial security.

We’ve had times when we’ve felt like we’re like Mary and Martha standing beside a grave – filled with emptiness and our lives changed forever.

We’ve had times when we’ve felt like we’re like Ezekiel standing beside a disjointed collection of bones – dry and useless.

 

Every true story including our own story includes death –

But we learn from Ezekiel and Lazarus – it doesn’t end with death.

From Ezekiel and Lazarus we receive a foretaste of the Resurrection.

 

It is a good thing in the season of Lent, in the season of preparation for  Easter,

That we do some thinking about death –

all the many deaths that we’ve already experienced,

and our own death.

 

It is good to think about because it has been said that

we can never know the full impact of the Resurrection

until we are honest with ourselves that there have been times that we have felt no hope,

seen no way to go on, or felt we were alone—

similar to how Mary and Martha must have felt when Jesus was not there in their time of need;

similar to how Ezekiel must have felt when he came upon the valley.

 

By being honest with where we are

our hearts and minds will open  to the wonderful news of Easter.

Because of course punchline of Easter is the same:

Because of Jesus, true stories do not end in death.

Because of Jesus, there are no more dead ends.

Amen.

 

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