Sermons That Work

Out of Death, into Life, Lent 5 (C) – 1996

March 24, 1996

One way or another we are always remembering. We look back over the day, the week, the year, trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going. We remember with the hope that we will find a clue as to whom we are and what we are becoming.

We began our Lenten journey to Easter by remembering. The words, “Remember you are but dust and to dust you shall return” fell to our souls. In these words we discover a clue as to whom we are. We discover that we are but dust; we will die. So much happens to us over the years that to remember we are but dust and we will die, is difficult and painful. We live in a culture that creates a virtual reality world that grabs the gusto as much as it can, and chants the lyrics from the Rolling Stones song, “Not Fade Away.” The ancient prayers of our Ash Wednesday liturgy call us to remember, while we live in a culture that does all that it can to forget.

The Ash Wednesday remembering of death actually turns us to Easter. Each Sunday draws us closer to Easter by giving us life in a time when we remember death. The great Lenten readings from St. John are filled with life. Jesus, the source of the water of life, awakens and quenches the thirst of the woman of Samaria who is caught in sin and death. Jesus, the light of the world, enters into the darkness of the man born blind, and today on this fifth Sunday of Lent, Jesus, the word of life, speaks, and Lazarus rises from the dead.

In the story of Lazarus we remember the gift of life God gives to us in Jesus. According to St. John there are two sisters, Mary and Martha, who have a brother named Lazarus. All are friends of Jesus. Lazarus becomes very ill, and his sisters send for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus before he dies. As we remember the story, Jesus waits two days before returning to Bethany to see Lazarus. Meanwhile Lazarus dies. All during the story there is a tension between death and life and it becomes clear that Jesus acts only from God. He does not respond to the urging of others; He reveals God’s glory. When Jesus arrived, the family and friends of Lazarus were filled with grief. Jesus met Martha who turned again to him for the gift of life. Jesus said, “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.”

Surrounded by weeping and grieving, Jesus looked up and thanked his father for hearing him and then he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” As Lazarus came out, Jesus turned to the faith community and said, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

St. John radicalizes life at the moment of death…in the presence of Jesus, who is the gift of life present to the community and to Lazarus. The story helps us to remember that life comes from the revelation of God in Jesus. With the call to Lazarus to come out, God’s reign is present to the whole community. Jesus asks the community to have a healing response…he asks them to unbind him, let him go free.

St. Paul affirms this in his letter to the Romans. He wrote, “If the spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you then the one who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through the spirit dwelling in you.” (Romans 8:11)

The mission of the community becomes one of releasing others from death. The story helps us remember we are resurrection people. We are to give the gift of life to others through the presence of Christ. Death and life according to St. John are so close together that one cannot be without the other. The liturgical acclamation, remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return is the gateway to life.

This is the Good News of Easter. This is the good news of the faith community. The message is the same. While statistics indicate that 85% of American churches are in decline, 60 churches across denominational lines close every month, and every 15 minutes one person leaves the Episcopal church; we are still a resurrection people. We are called to unbind those who are in grief and death. To remember our death is to accept our life in Christ, knowing that God is in control. The message is the same for us now as it was for the early faith community. God exists and creates, Jesus is the center of life, the Bible is the source of our faith and prayers, and the prayer book calls us out of grief and death into life through the living Christ. Our mission is to reveal the work of God in Christ.

This is the best time to be a Christian. To gracefully and humbly accept the precious gift of life and to pray for those who are bound in sin and death. To go out into the world to give the gift of life to those who are shut-in or in prison, or in the pain of sickness or oppression.

On this fifth Sunday of Lent we remember whose we are and who we are and we know that tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things for you. So dance like no one is looking and sing like you are being paid; on Easter you and I will renew our Baptismal promise and rise to a new life.


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Christopher Sikkema


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