When I was in high school, my older brother Jason and I decided that for mother’s day we would chip in together to get my mother a dogwood tree she really wanted. We saved our money for months before hand. Finally, the day before my brother drove to home depot and purchased the tree. I will never forget my response when he brought home the tree. “That tree is dead! We can’t give that to her!” Jason assured me that he talked to the salesman and he assured him that it was just in a dormant phase and that as soon as it was planted it would come back to life. I was skeptical. I had no hope that this tree would come alive.
So I set about wrapping this tree, not an easy task. We gave my mother that tree. She opened it and couldn’t help but laugh. But my parents humored us and planted this stick in the ground. A year passed and it was still a dead stick in the ground. It had not come back to life as was expected. We lost hope and returned the tree to get a replacement that also ended as a dead stick in the ground. That gift idea never really came to fruition as we imagined.
Sometimes there are times in life when we have very little hope. It could be in humorous little life situations as what I just shared which are ultimately harmless, other times those stories of hopelessness affects our lives and our spiritual well-being. These times can be harmful to our overall wellbeing and ability to participate in regular life activities. Hope is so important to our lives. Hope is what inspires life, joy, new works, and ultimately our happiness and contentment in life.
Hope allows for us to believe in the hereafter and the goodness of life and humanity. Hope opens our minds to the possibility of God’s work in our lives and in the lives of others. Hope inspires us to treat and battle diseases, to start new ministries and to increase current ones. Hope and love is why we marry. Hope is why people have families and hope is why we continue trying to make this life and this world a better place for future generations.
But troubles can cause our hope to stumble. It can cause us to question what we have always held to be the truth in life. Troubles often become humanity’s stumbling block in faith. And we see this in our scriptures for today. The dry bones of Ezekiel’s passage, represents the devastation suffered by the people of Israel in their defeat and ultimate destruction by the Babylonians. It represents the hopelessness felt by those who lived in Diaspora in the city of Babylon separated from all that once gave them comfort and hope. Troubles, in the form of war, inspired hopelessness in the people of Israel. They lost hope in ever seeing their homes again. They questioned whether or not God was even present in their suffering.
Trouble caused dryness in their souls left by extreme troubles and loss. Their troubles caused doubt to creep in and left a despair that prevented them from trusting in God and believing that with God anything is possible. But we too feel hopeless occasionally. We too feel moments of despair. We too go through times of doubt, not always accompanied by troubles either. Sometimes we just doubt because of the realities of this world.
It is so much easier to believe what we can see, touch, smell, and observe with the senses. But faith requires that we don’t rely purely on those and open ourselves to the beauties that God places in this life and in this world. God can and does perform miracles and we have heard two of them today. Martha and Mary were grieving, they lost their brother. Lazarus had been dead for three days and not only did they believe that his spirit had left but his body had already begun to decompose. Death was final. There was no coming back from death. They had seen it with their own eyes and that is much easier to believe then that Christ could raise him from the dead. But despite their anger, despite their disbelief, Christ performed a miracle and brought Lazarus back to life. The scriptures said, “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Laz′arus, come out.” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus wept from the pain of his friends and then did the impossible. He raised someone from the dead. And if that doesn’t inspire faith in the most skeptical of hearts, I don’t know what will.
We all have troubles. We all have challenges. We all struggle to believe sometimes. We have all been doubters and have all ask where is God? But the one thing our scriptures assure is that God feels our pains, knows our struggles. God weeps when we weep, and with a God who cares this much about humanity; we should know he is willing to do the impossible for those that he loves. We see it when Christ brings his friend to life and we will see it again with the resurrection on Easter. N.T. Wright, 21st century theologian, wrote, “The Resurrection gives you a sense of what God wants to do for the whole world”. There is hope in the raising of Lazarus that foreshadows the ultimate hope given to us with Christ Resurrection, a hope that rests in the fact that God loves each person and offers to do the impossible in our lives as well. The only thing Christ asks of us is to do what Mary and Martha struggled with, trust in him. So as we prepare ourselves for Palm Sunday, next week, let us examine our hearts and ask ourselves the hard questions:
Do we trust in Christ?
Do we trust in his love for us?
How do we live into that faith and hope in this world?
 John 11: 43-44, RSV.
 N.T. Wright, 21st century.
(Based on Ezekiel 37: 1-14 and John 11: 1-45)