april 6

Giving Life to the Lifeless

As you are probably aware, I have recently adopted a dog from the Wood County Humane Society. “Gracie” is a 2 year old adult ‘Heinz 57’ mix of lab, boxer, and chow. She is housebroken and quiet, a low maintenance dog.

But, Gracie had been abused by her former owners. She is very shy, skittish, and cowers around doors and at the sight of shoes. No matter what I say, I cannot convince her that I am trustworthy. Whether it seems fair or not, I must offer extra doses of love to nurture her necessary healing. It will take time for her to develop that trust through my actions. Her perception of life is one of fear. And it is a suffocating and life-draining perspective. It has nothing to do with me but everything to do with the skeletons of her past.

Prior to yesterday, we hadn’t ventured beyond Legion Park so that she would get comfortable walking with me and gain trust in me. But Saturday morning, we began an adventure walking down Landwehr Ave, taking a right on Oak St. down to Broadview Ave, and came back to Park Drive. During that little road trip, she was exposed to other dogs and several crazy squirrels. She lit up like a light bulb with a sudden boost of energy that I had not seen in her yet. Her tail wagged, ears perked up, and she almost trotted as she stood high and alert. She came alive. For a moment, she had forgotten the skeletons that weigh upon her shoulders like anchors, stealing joy from her life as she trudges through one day to the next.

The prophet Isaiah referred to Israel as the valley of dry bones. This scene is one that you would expect to see in one of today’s television shows, like the zombies in Walking Dead. With each step, the prophet is having a hard time stepping on ground without also stepping on dry brittle bones, the remnants of past losses. And God brought those bones back to life. The bones begin rattling and moving together as skeletons. Muscles and tissue appear connecting the bones together. And then skin finishes the packages. Yet there is no life until God breathes breath into each body. The dead are brought back to life. Hope is renewed. Purpose is found in the Lord.

According to each of the Gospels, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were three of Jesus’ best friends. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus had died and Jesus arrived into a grieving community. Jesus himself grieved the loss. Jesus wept. In Mary’s deep grief, she blamed Jesus. “If you had been here Jesus, he would not have died!”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? If only I woulda, coulda, shoulda in times of loss (any kind of loss). Blame and regret. Some of us are laying in our own tombs after experiencing the skeletons in our closets. We may have lost our joy in life through a broken relationship. Maybe some are harboring anger or guilt over a past experience that steals their peace. The difficult words from a doctor’s mouth robs someone of hope. My dog Gracie cowers at quick movement and loud noises. She continues to live in the mud and muck of her past. She doesn’t recognize yet that she is free from the burdens of her past.

We will do almost anything to prevent loss and death, yet our best efforts will always fall short. It’s not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’ death comes to each of us. And when it does (whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual death), we often act out in aggression and defensiveness toward others because of our pain. When Jesus asked the people to move the stone from Lazarus’s tomb, they said, ‘but Lord, the stench is overwhelming.’ The stench of our festering anger and toxic fear can seem too much to face.

But Jesus responded, “Lazarus, come out!” And the unthinkable happened in that moment. The dead man came alive. Through the stench Lazarus walked out of the tomb. Still wrapped in burial linens, Jesus told the people to unbind him and let him go. Jesus brought life to the lifeless.

The same Jesus that resurrected Lazarus experienced his own death and time in a tomb before rising to new life. That same Jesus stands outside of your tomb, both figurative and the literal, and repeats to you, ‘Come out!’ He unbinds you from the wrappings of anger and fear. “Come out!” Your burdens have been released. Pour out your anger, your fear, your anxiety and feel God’s peace overflow your heart and spirit. Like Gracie, you may not realize that you have been freed from those past burdens as new creations.

In Christ, we have died to sin and are made a new creation. We have no need to fear death. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Our dry bones have been renewed. There is no longer a need to cower in fear or act out in aggression or defensiveness because of past experiences. We walk in the gift of Christ’s forgiveness, which none of us deserve. Now let every action in our mission and purpose as disciples proclaim his mercy and point to him. Amen.