Reflection on Words taken from Ezekiel 37: 1-14 and the story of the raising of Lazarus.
To set the scene - The people of Israel had been taken into exile. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. They thought that God had deserted them. Then a prophet called Ezekiel came and spoke to the people and this is what he said:
Reflection 1: Some people think that faith is rigid. You learn facts. You believe them. You’re saved. That’s it. The trouble with that is that life intervenes, birth and death and all that’s in between. That’s what is means to be human. Things happen. Sometimes they’re bad. So called faith can be shattered. Some folk say its wrong to doubt. Life has shown me that doubt is often the only sane response to what is going on.
The people of Israel, taken into Israel, thought God had abandoned them, been destroyed. God lived in the temple. The temple had gone. They had been taken into slavery…end of!! Doubt big time. Then this prophet has a dream, a vision if you like, and says, actually its not like that. These bones coming back to life were a sign that God was with them where they were. They had not been abandoned. But God is in his temple was their mantra. Clearly what they had learnt, what they had put their faith in was wrong. And the proof came when the nation was restored, returned and Jerusalem was rebuilt. Think Ukraine…
Through doubt they had learnt something new and far more amazing than what they had lost. That God was not constrained to a place, a building but was, to quote an old Beatles’ song – ‘here, there and everywhere’! Unsettling that and, I think this is something that we as Christians, with the way we treat our buildings, still need to learn.
So God is everywhere. As the Psalmist said, ‘there is nowhere we can go from you presence. Here’s part of a story of Jesus. You may know it. Joanne and Susie are going to share it…John 11: 1-45
To set the scene - Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.
Reflection 2: If you find this story hard to believe you are not alone. A friend of mine imagined the scene:
They said he was dead, but it seems a bit suspicious to me. How can they prove it?
I know we’d had all the weeping and wailing and the body put in the tomb and the door sealed to keep him in and the animals out, but they could have played a trick on us,
They’re just trying to convince people that their friend is a marvellous magician who can bring dead people back to life. They’ve already convinced hundreds of other people that he’s a healer, but how do we really know that?
I think it’s all an act. And I think those three were in on it.
And so it goes on. You may be thinking similar thoughts. We pick at details and miss the wider picture. Put aside the queries and doubts, the need for explanation, if any in this story for a moment. Allow me to think of it as a parable, a story with a message.
If Jesus gives us a window into God, which I believe he does, then this God is love in totality. This Love is not limited by geography or walls. This love is not fettered by a creed, or constrained by people who say, ‘if you believe this’ or unless you say these words you are not going to heaven.
This love meets us in the joy of a wedding offering wine, but in this story is with us in our grief, shares our weeping and is beside us, holding us and those we love, even in death. Seal the tomb and you do not seal it from the height and depth, the length and breadth, the totality of the love of God.
I am convinced that nothing in all creation in life or death can separate us, or our loved ones, from Love which we see expressed in Jesus. As John Wesley put it as he was dying, ‘Best of all is God is with us’, always from birth, in life, through death and beyond.
1 Best of all is God is with us,
God will hold and never fail.
Keep that truth when storms are raging,
God remains though faith is frail.
2 Best of all is God is with us,
life goes on and needs are met,
God is strongest in our weakness.
Love renews, will not forget.
3 Best of all is God is with us,
hearts are challenged, strangely warmed,
faith is deepened, courage strengthened,
grace received and hope reformed.
4 Best of all is God is with us,
in our joy and through our pain,
till that final acclamation:
'life is Christ, but death is gain'.
5 Best of all is God is with us
as we scale eternal heights,
love grows stronger, undiminished;
earth grows dim by heaven's lights.
Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
© 2008 Stainer & Bell Ltd
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Tune: CHAPEL BRAE (Singing the Faith 61)