Grace Upon Grace

Preached on 9 April, 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
The fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A

Grant us grace to love what you command and
desire what you promise;
that among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found.

Grace upon grace; hope upon hope; promise upon promise.

It’s the fifth Sunday in Lent; we’re almost there.  Next Sunday, we begin Holy Week, when time feels like it is almost suspended as we walk with Christ:  From his triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem, to his last meal with his disciples, to praying in the garden, his betrayal and arrest, to his crucifixion and burial.
And then we wait; the waiting on Holy Saturday is almost unbearable until at last…. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We began Lent with a reminder of our own mortality and an invitation to observe a holy Lent, along with suggestions of how we might do that: Praying, fasting, and self-denial; reading and meditating on God’s holy Word; self-examination, repentance, and amendment of life.

And as we have observed Lent in our daily lives, we have gathered here each Sunday to hear the Good News, the stories that give us hope; that tell us God’s promises; to see that grace upon grace God offers us.

Have you noticed how the stories have built upon each other week by week?
We started with Jesus in the desert, tested by Satan.
Then Nicodemus went to talk to Jesus in the night and Jesus told him about new birth in the Spirit; being born from above.
The third Sunday we heard Jesus in conversation with the Samaritan Woman at the well.  He told her that with the water he could give her, she would never thirst; living water that would well up within her to eternal life.
Last week, we saw the blind man see.  New sight to see who Jesus is; to see God at work in the world.  New life – abundant life, Jesus promises.

And finally, today, we come to the story of Lazarus.  But first, we start with the Valley of Dry Bones.  The prophet, Ezekiel, was deported to Babylon along with the people of Israel in 597 BCE.  They are exiled for years, decades.  They fear God has abandoned them; that they are cut off completely from God.  They have lost hope – so much so that they feel like dry bones.

So, God gives Ezekiel a vision, a message, for the people.  Through the Spirit of God, even long-dead dry bones can live again.  This is not just a story of resurrection.  It is a promise; a reason for hope.  It is an affirmation of life.  Life NOW is what God desires for God’s people.  Abundant life.

That’s what Jesus promises.

John writes his gospel for a purpose: so that you, his reader, will believe.  One of his methods is through “signs” (what are called miracles in other gospels).  He tells of seven of them, beginning with the sign of changing water to wine at the wedding in Cana.

Raising Lazarus from the dead is the final sign.  It’s at the very center of the gospel.  This story is a pivotal point in John’s gospel.  It’s the point at which the authorities decide that Jesus must die.  He shows he has power over life and death.  His power and influence with the people is growing and he’s gaining more followers every day.  In raising Lazarus, he is proclaiming to them, “You are totally unable to control me.”  So, they begin looking for an opportunity kill him and Lazarus.

So here we have a story about Jesus and what leads to his death.  But there’s more to the story than that.
The details in how he tells the story connect Lazarus’ death to Jesus’ death: the question, “where have you laid him?” rolling away the stone, the linen strips of cloth, and the cloth over his face.  These details serve to direct the reader to connect Jesus to Lazarus, and through Lazarus to us.

The promises of the stories we have been hearing all through Lent are for us.  The promise of new birth from above.  The promise of living water bubbling up within us to eternal life.  The promise of new sight, of Jesus knowing his sheep by name and his sheep knowing his voice.
The promise of abundant life.  Remember, Jesus told Martha, “I am the Resurrection and I am the Life.”  The promise of resurrection life is for life now.

I began the sermon with the collect for today.

Grant us grace to love what you command
and desire what you promise;
that among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found.

We’re certainly familiar with the swift and varied changes of the world.  They can be overwhelming at times.  May we also remember the promises of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Promise upon promise; Hope upon hope;
Grace upon grace.

Grant us your grace, O Lord.