The grave… the tomb… and the stone feature prominently in today’s scriptures… and while we hear of death in these scriptures…for us… physical death is not the point. The death we are concerned with today is not our physical death…but rather…our spiritual death… as some will die a spiritual death… long before they pass away.
From the prophet Ezekiel we heard:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back…
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them…
I will put my spirit in you that you may live…
Here Ezekiel is not speaking about physical death…and physical rising… but mostly about the restoration and return of the people of Israel who have been scattered… and his message of restoration…his message of being reunited in God… at God’s invitation… is most applicable to us today.
God invites us to return… to come back from where we have wandered. The graves that God will open and have us rise from are the spiritual graves that we dig that separate us from the life that God intends. God says that he wants to put his spirit in us that we may live…but we need to cooperate, and develop a receptive spiritual life open to God’s words and ways.
The spiritual graves we dig for ourselves… the sins we commit… the prejudices we perpetuate…the resentments and cynicism we harbor… numb us to God’s presence… anesthetize us to the needs of our sisters and brothers… and dull us to the life we are called to live. What spiritual graves… entomb you today?
Like the spiritual graves we considered with the reading from Ezekiel that deprive us of life… the tomb and the stone in the story of Lazarus also might be seen as whatever blocks us from a life with Christ. The stone stood between Jesus and Lazarus and prevented life.
In the Gospel story we hear that Jesus is perturbed and that he weeps. Some attribute this to being emotional at the death of his friend and I am sure that he felt for his friend and for the comfort of all who mourned…but a close review of the dialogue and actions also reveals what might be considered a lack of faith… a resistance by some to believe what he has said. Maybe today… Jesus weeps over our lack of faith and our reluctance to believe what he says. What stands in the way of you believing that Jesus wants to love you and that all he did…he did for you?
Jesus’ words…Take away the stone… might become our refrain for the rest of lent…Remove the stones that prevent your life in Christ…remove the stones that stand between you and Jesus…and heeding Martha’s caution about opening a four day old grave…yes… when we roll back the stones in our life to be united with Christ… there might be a stench…for the things that separate us from a life in Christ are indeed foul and putrid.
As Christ called Lazarus by name to emerge from the tomb… he likewise calls each of us by name to abandon what keeps us from a life with him and when we emerge from our spiritual tomb we too can hear Jesus say…untie him and let him go… or untie her and let her go… to go from our sinful ways of spiritual death…to a new life in Christ.
It is never too late to take away the stone and return to God with our whole heart … for the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment… This is the God who awaits us!