Sunday Guided Tour for March 29:  The Fourth Sunday in Lent

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The Bible readings this morning speak to us of life, of life in God and life restored.  The first reading tells the story of Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones.  The psalmist tells us of the promise of our hope in God; Paul (in his letter to the Church in Rome) proclaims new life in Christ, and the gospel story is the one of Lazarus raised from death.  When we hear of Lazarus, the one thing we might keep in mind is that, along with Lazarus, the whole community was raised to life, a life that they might never before have known  -  one of hope, and promise and assurance.


Prayer for Illumination:

Gracious Holy Spirit, our days are ones of question and anxiety and fear .. of mostly the unknown.  By your presence, help us know the grace that overcomes confusion and uncertainty, and guide us in the ways of healing and respect for each other, and ourselves, and all your world.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.


First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (New International Version)

The valley of dry bones

The hand of the Lord was on me, says Ezekiel, and I was brought out by the Spirit of the Lord and set in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  The Lord led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  The Lord asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded.

And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.  I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”  So I prophesied as I was commanded, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet  -  a vast army.


Then the Lord said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel.  They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’  Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” 


Here, the prophet tells of life made out of loss and death and dryness.  Ezekiel speaks of life made new in God.


Congregational Reading:  Psalm 130 (NRSV)

In the Lord, steadfast love, and redemption

One:    Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

             Lord, hear my voice!

             Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

All:    If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,

           Lord, who could stand?

One:   But there is forgiveness with you,

            so that you may be revered.

All:    I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

          and in the word of the Lord, I hope; 

          my soul waits for the Lord

          more than those who watch for the morning,

          more than those who watch for the morning.

One:  O Israel, hope in the Lord!

           For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

           and with the Lord is great power to redeem.

All:    It is the Lord who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.


Sung Response:                MV#143, verses 1 and 3

We cannot own the sunlit sky, 

the moon, the wild-flowers growing,

For we are part of all that is within life’s river flowing.

With open hands receive and share 

the gifts of God’s Creation,

that all may have abundant life in every earthly nation.

God calls humanity to join 

as partners in creating 

a future free from want or fear, life’s goodness celebrating. 

That new world beckons from afar,

invites our shared endeavour 

that all might have abundant life and peace endure forever.


Gospel Reading:  John 11:1-45 (selected verses)  (New International Version) 

Jesus and Lazarus

While Jesus was out of town and away from Bethany, he heard that his dear friend Lazarus had died.  When he heard what had happened, he turned around and headed back to town.  Before he got there, Mary, the sister of Lazarus went out to meet him.


When she reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”


When Jesus saw her weeping, and the neighbours who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  Jesus wept.


Then the neighbours said, “See how he loved him!”


But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”


Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.  It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  “Take away the stone,” he said.


“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”


Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”


So they took away the stone.  Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”


When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.


Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

In Jesus’ presence, life fully is restored.  In the story of Lazarus, we can know that the purpose and the promise of the living Christ is life.  And we can say thank you.


A Reading from the Letters of Paul:  Romans 8:6-11 (New Revised Standard Version, alt.) 

Life in the Spirit

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law  -indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.


But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of the One who raised Christ Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through the same Spirit, the Spirit that dwells in you.


Paul declares his experience of the new life he has found in Christ.  It’s as though he wants everybody to experience the wonder and promise that he has.  It is a gift to the faith.


A Sunday Guided Tour  -  Lent V


Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"

Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"

Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"

"Oh, hear the word of the Lord."


It’s hard to resist hearing the words of “Dem dry bones” when we read the passage from Ezekiel (that is, if we have ever actually sung them).

I think my earliest memory of the song was at Cub camp, or maybe Vacation Bible School.  But it paints a pretty memorable picture!  Such is part of the genius of the Jewish tradition  -  to convey the message by story.  Jesus did it, too.  All the time.  The stories, we can remember.  The message, not so much, perhaps.  It’s like a lecture: try to repeat the substance of a lecture without looking at your notes.  If the professor tells a story .. ah!  That, we can recall.  That, we can retell.


The beauty of the story, though, is more than only memory.  The story is alive.  It lives, and it lives on.  It’s there to be embraced by next generations  -  one, and then another, and another  -  to be caught up in their own lives and be embraced as a story that is theirs, interpreted and reinterpreted, time and time again, to make sense and to have meaning in the life of every generation.  Not only does the living breath give life to Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones; it breathes life into the story for every generation that can hear it.  And today, perhaps, we need to hear it more than ever.  The story is the Gospel, and the Gospel is for life; and life is the sure promise of the Risen Christ!  Every reading for today assures it.


“I wait for the Lord,” the psalmist says, “my soul waits, and in the word of the Lord, I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning .. Hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with the Lord is great power to redeem.”  In the Lord, there is power to bring life where there has been none.


Lazarus, long dead (or long enough) is brought to life  -  not by some distant force or mystic intervention  -  but rather by the love and heartache of a dearest friend, a friend who wept (“Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in all the Bible).  The story is completely memorable, and real, and the promise that it holds is timeless:  In the One whom we call friend and Christ of God, there’s life  -  a life that’s heart and soul and mind and strength in the very face of darkness, and the fear of the unknown. 


We can have heart; we can take heart  -  in the same way Paul has done as he declares: “The Spirit of the One who raised Christ Jesus from the dead dwells in you; the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to you through the same Spirit, the Spirit that dwells in you.”


Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk aroun',

Dem bones, dem bones, have been given life

Dem bones, have been given life, and given heart

Oh, hear the word of the Lord. 


Today we celebrate the Gospel promise that is life and heart restored, and the guidance and companionship that’s ours through the unknown.  Today we celebrate the Good News of the Gospel.  

Thanks be to God!


Rev. James McKnight

Trinity United Church Thorold 

905-227-4644  /