This week we have an African-American Spiritual entitled “Go Down Moses.” The refrain is echoed, “Let my people Go!” A version of that song was popularized in Americana lore in the Disney film, “The Prince of Egypt.” It has been interesting that over the course of our pandemic, some people have been trying to say that COVID-19 is one of the plagues sent by God just like the story of Moses. You may remember that God called Moses and had him ask Pharaoh, to let the people go. Pharaoh refused and then God sent plagues like bugs and drought and famine and disease before finally sending the angel of death to kill the first born in each household that was not marked by the blood of the lamb. That way the angel would Passover the Hebrew houses because God had warned them.
The people who want to claim that God is using this pandemic to teach everyone a lesson is wrong. While we go through these quarantines and stay at home orders people look for someone to blame. When they get tired of blaming the politicians and the media then they look to blame God. It is a normal process of grieving and in some ways we are all grieving because of the isolation that we are having to experience.
We are facing challenging times and the song Go Down Moses reminds us that God wins even when times are toughest. Thank you, Jeff, for sharing that song with us. Powery writes in his book “Were You There” about this spiritual:
“The classic spiritual depicts the Biblical story about the exodus story of the children of Israel out of Egypt led by Moses. The spiritual has been a metaphor for the experience of African Americans during the time of slavery. Pharaoh was the white slave master; Israel represented the enslaved Blacks. Egypt was the United States. Moses was anyone leading the people to freedom. It is a song that represents a double meaning. The people sang this not only to retell the biblical story, but to tell their story toward freedom.”
Even while we seek an end to our situation, we are looking for freedom. We know that there are people who are doing all they can working in hospitals and treating patients with the virus. They are working really long hours and putting their best efforts forward. But in the end, there will be people who die. There have been deaths already and as I write this so far none have been in our county that I know of. But we will all be affected. We will know someone or be that someone who was affected by the virus. We need hope and freedom as we deal with our world right now. So instead of blaming God we look to the scriptures to see the promises of God and not the wrath of God.
The first song that Jeff sang was a spiritual tied to the OT lesson from Ezekiel. The beginning of this story is very interesting because somehow the prophet Ezekiel is transported by the Spirit to a valley of dry bones. It may be a dream or a vision or even a real place, we do not know. Now the Lord asks Ezekiel if he the bones can live and he responds to God, “O Lord God you know.” What a great answer to this question. I am afraid that I would probably give a yes or no answer. But Ezekiel trusts the Lord to do what the Lord will do. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to them bones and they will come together and then receive flesh and finally even the very Spirit that gives life.
One thing I learned this week while studying this passage is notice how God tells Ezekiel to prophesy and the events will occur. He told him to prophesy because that is who Ezekiel was, a prophet. He did not tell him to put them together like a doctor because he was not a doctor. He did not tell him to feed them bread because he was not a baker and so on. We too are called to do the things we can in the areas where we are best suited. Think about now, all the grocery store workers, truck drivers, custodians, nurses, the list goes on of unexpected people, they are the essential personnel. They are called by God to do all that they can in this time of need. And they are doing it very, very well.
The gospel lesson is another long one so I will do like last week, read a portion and then talk about it and then back to the lesson. The Gospel lesson is John 11:1-45: 11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Ok we know the characters; this is Mary the one who sat at Jesus feet and Martha the one who made all the dinner and got mad her sister for not helping. And then Jesus takes Mary’s side and Martha was a little perturbed.
4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
The disciples were not very concerned because Judea was where Jesus had his life threatened and they all knew it might be best to stay away.
7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” Jesus is throwing down the gauntlet he is going to duel with these guys these rabbis who have threatened him and he will not sneak around when he does it, he will confront them in broad dayligt, unlike what they end up doing arresting him at night.
11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Bold statement by Thomas, he thinks he can be a martyr as well. But it si not yet his time. They also have to be questioning what Jesus is going to do about it after the death?
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Four days is important because in ancient times the people believed that the Spirit of a person could hang around for up to three days and might re-enter their body. But after four days—he was a goner.
18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Marth understands what is supposed to happen, that people do die and someday the great resurrection will take place but for now Lazarus has died and if Jesus would have been there, he could have cured him. She had seen him cure people with disease even since birth, she believes in the power of Jesus. But not know, it is too late.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Here is another of the great I am statements. Jesus says that right now I am with you and I will be with you always if you believe in me. No matter how small our belief might be, Jesus promises to be with us. In times just like these when we wonder and doubt, Jesus re-assures us that he is with us.
28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary feels the same way Martha does. Jesus could have prevented this. Jesus could have prevented the death of Lazarus and he could have prevented Corona Virus and any other calamity that befalls us. Jesus also meets us where we are and loves us and even weeps for us in our times of trial, listen.
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus weeps when we do. Jesus loves us and knows the pain we bear. Yet the final word has not been delivered.
39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Powery writes, “All throughout this spiritual ‘let my people go’ is repeated. It is the voice of God speaking to Pharaoh. Musically, this line is sung by the entire community. The community is the voice of God in this spiritual, revealing that sometimes what we hear from others is God speaking to us. ‘Let my people Go’. I wonder what you might have to let go of today or what needs to let go of you. What is holding you hostage? Why aren’t you free? You are not alone. A community of support and faith is telling whatever is entrapping you—‘let my people go.’ Be free!”
The miracle of Lazarus is a reminder to all of us that we do not have the final say. God does and when Jesus prayed to God so that all others would see and know who Jesus was is a reminder to us still today. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. They go together. Life comes to us because of the power of God through the resurrection of Jesus, the Son. When we believe no matter the size of that belief, we are given life abundantly.
Let us pray: Lord we seek you in these days. We know that you can make life out of dry bones and raise the dead. You have reminded us all that we are so important to one another, no job is too menial or mundane. We are all so important to you. May we live knowing that you died to save us all. Amen.