This month’s Christian Century magazine includes a story of twelve-year old Julian, who told her father, a pastor, that “she couldn’t go forward with confirmation because she wasn’t sure she could promise to believe everything she was supposed to believe forever. Her father replied, “What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise is that you will wrestle with the story of God forever.” (Christian Century, pg. 27, March 2023)

Isaac Villegas, an ordained minister in the Mennonite tradition, writes about being baptized by his grandfather, a deacon in that church, in the shallow end of a swimming pool, with the words “En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espiritu Santo.” And Villegas remembers visiting that same grandfather – who had immigrated to the United States to give his family a better chance at life, and with whom he had spent much time growing up, playing on the floor of the bicycle and little machine repair shop his grandfather had run; Villegas remembers visiting his grandfather after his grandfather had a heart attack, sitting with him beside another pool in the apartment complex where he and his grandmother lived. And before Villegas left, his grandfather once again prayed with him, marking the sign of the cross on his forehead. A few hours later Villegas heard, his grandfather had died. (Christian Century, pg. 32, March 2023)

In today’s gospel story, when Jesus finally gets to the village where Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus live, Martha and Mary are well into grieving the loss of their brother. In those days, grieving was a communal event in Judaism, even as it still is for many of us in the Jewish, Christian, and other faith traditions. Yes, this would have been a communal event, with family and friends and neighbors gathering around to pray the person dying into the next world, staying to help prepare the body (there were no mortuaries or funeral homes!), bringing the body to a burial place, and staying with the loved ones to console them as they mourned for a proscribed period.

So, there is quite a crowd gathered at the house and then who follow to the tomb, where Jesus declares that Lazarus has not died once and for all, but so that the glory of God might be revealed. And Jesus raises him from the dead, and commands the crowd to unbind him, in other words, to participate in the work of bringing Lazarus back to life. Like a grandfather baptizing a child and then declaring God’s blessings upon that child-become-a-grown-up one more time before he died. Like a parent who is also a pastor naming for their child that confirmation is not graduation, but a step on a life-long journey that is often full of more questions than answers, but through which God who is faithful will hold and love and seek to guide us, even as our beliefs change and evolve and evolve and change – probably many times over in a lifetime. Actions that declare God’s intention for life and new life, and actions that take place specifically where two or more have gathered in Jesus’ name. Communal events.

I was reading this week about how quantum computers are changing the landscape of computers and data and the world order of cooperation (or lack thereof) between countries across the globe and which will even radically be changing how our daily lives are experienced as quantum computing changes everything from the cars we drive to the systems developed to produce and ship food and other necessary items. Interestingly, dental floss is currently an essential tool in quantum computing, specifically unwaxed and unflavored. While most substances break down with the ultra-deep cooled environment needed for quantum computers to perform, dental floss (specifically unwaxed and unflavored) can be used to patch and repair and tie things together because it will not break down in these radically subzero temperatures. I guess that sometimes it is the most basic things that tie everything together even amidst the most world-changing of developments.

Like the relationships shared between the siblings of this story – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus that caused Mary and Martha to reach out to their friend and teacher Jesus for help when Lazarus got sick, and the relationships they shared with their wider community, who gathered to grieve with them, and then celebrate with wonder when Lazarus is resurrected, and who therefore also receive the charge from Jesus to participate in the new and resurrected life promised by God that involves the work of unbinding. Freeing. Like the relationship between that grandfather and grandson, and pastor and daughter. Relationships that can persist even amidst the most subzero of temperatures and beyond the veil that divides life and death.

We heard the dry bones story from Ezekial this morning – we get to hear this evocative and deep text again at the Easter Vigil in less than two weeks. We hear how God orders Ezekial to invite those dry bones back to life. Of how God can take stuff that is stone cold dead and cause it to live again. This text from Ezekial was directed towards the people of Israel at the time it was first composed, intended to remind them that God intended for them to be communities of life serving God and world with purpose. Intending for them to turn away from the dead places and things that do not serve God nor bring life to the world and the communities around them.

People of Israel – Live. Lazarus - Live. Child of God, newly baptized or now confirmed – live. Grandchild who will continue on after my death – live. But not just any life. Not just for any purpose. Live for new life. Live to discover where God is leading and guiding each of us individually and all of us collectively, even as we wrestle and are wrestled with over the course of our living and someday, our dying.

So much is changing and will always be changing in our lives and in this world. Yet we remember that there is not just a resurrected life promised for someday, but for this day. Even as we might long for all things to be made new in fullness, Jesus the resurrection and the life is seeking this very day to pull not only Lazarus, but all of us and the communities and families of which we are a part, into new life and new living. Into discovering that it is often the most basic of building blocks, the most basic of tools – like dental floss in quantum computers, or relationships in our lives, that hold everything together. And Jesus, the Great Wanderer and Teacher – the One who came to be Savior for the world, is present amidst it all, reminding us that even amidst the dead things, God’s purpose of life and love will shine forth for those with eyes and hearts to see it. Amen.