Fifth Sunday in Lent
Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45
Holy Trinity has a thing with Hamilton. Two of our pastors have seen it in the past six weeks or so. Some wonder which sermon will have it referenced first–this one! And for the past two Sundays (during the 10:30 service) someone there received a text that they won the lottery to attend the 2pm performance of Hamilton—on that day! And they had to buy the tickets within an hour so one guy had to enter his credit card during the first reading!
I cry every time I hear one of the songs. After hip hop and rap, after raucous laughter and high drama comes a sad song. I hear some people skip that song when they play the recording. But in church we want to be honest with all of what it means to be human. Including sadness.
Hamilton’s earlier affair has become public, bringing humiliation upon his wife, Eliza. And their beloved son, Philip, has died in a duel. Hamilton and Eliza are overwhelmed by grief and loss. The song begins this way: There are moments that the words don’t reach / There is suffering too terrible to name / You hold your child as tight as you can / And push away the unimaginable.
Every time I hear that song my body remembers my experience with the unimaginable. It was in 2003. I learned that my then-partner was addicted to crystal meth. I don’t know how I lived through the next year. By dealing with a loved one’s addiction, my life was also out of control. Everything I knew and trusted was ripped away. I remember sobbing over the heartache of it all. Over the great loss of my partner’s brilliant and talented life. Over the loss of a relationship. Over the unimaginable truth that the only way I could move on and sell our condo, was to have a judge put my partner out of the house, and essentially make him homeless. Over the coming years I would learn that it takes time to heal such unimaginable grief.
The stores these days are stocked with lamb and ham, with Peeps and chocolate bunnies. In church, though, our Lenten readings today take us to graveyards, scenes of despair and tears, working through the unimaginable.
A valley of dry bones. The Israelites in exile. Away from their homeland. They feel completely cut off. Their hope is lost. There is no path forward. And it is simply too much to bear. In the midst of so much destruction, so much uncertainty, so much despair, God asks the mortal the unimaginable question: Can these bones live? And then we see a scene of resurrection. Bones come together. Breath revives the bones. The graves open. A vast multitude stands up. And in God, there is hope. Life goes on.
Then there is the sorrow and heartache at the grave of Lazarus. That is enough, but Jesus’ delay in coming is incomprehensible to them. Yet when Jesus finally arrives, he weeps. And we are given a glimpse into the heart of God who suffers with us in those unimaginable moments when our hearts are ripped out and we wonder whether we can stand, whether we can go on. Whether life goes on.
Each of us works through the unimaginable in our own ways. The Hamilton song I quoted earlier is called “It’s Quiet Uptown.” Alexander Hamilton sings: I spend hours in the garden / I walk alone to the store / And it’s quiet uptown / I never liked the quiet before / I take the children to church on Sunday / A sign of the cross at the door / And I pray / That never used to happen before.
I am the resurrection and the life, Jesus declares to the group of mourners. Those who believe in me shall never die, he says. The unimaginable promise seems to be for the present. In baptism God breathes new life into us, raises us from the dead, restores us to community, and resuscitates our faltering faith.
We each imagine eternal life in different ways. Last fall Zoltan Istvan campaigned for president by driving across the country in a giant coffin called the Immortality Bus. He shares the optimism that science and technology can improve our bodies, that our minds can be converted into code, that we can merge with machines and that we can live forever.
Or maybe you read the piece that went viral a month ago. After Amy Krouse Rosenthal was given a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, all the plans that she and her husband had for the future were put on hold. They began what they called “plan be.” What Amy wanted was more time with her husband, more time with her children, and more time sipping martinis at the Green Mill Jazz Club on Thursday evenings. But what she wanted most is that life would go on for her husband after she died. What we find almost unimaginable is that she wrote of her hope that he would eventually get a fresh start, that there would be a new love for him.
Lazarus, come out, Jesus says. Poet Maya Spector talks about spring as a time to break out—time to punch our way out of the dark winter prison. . . Stop shutting eyes and gritting teeth, curling fingers into fists, hunching shoulders. . . Why make a cell your home when the door is unlocked and the garden is waiting for you?
Alexander and Eliza Hamilton are working through the unimaginable, goes the song. Yet then, maybe then more than ever, come forth these words: There are moments that the words don’t reach / There is grace too powerful to name / We push away what we can never understand / We push away the unimaginable / They are standing in the garden / Alexander by Eliza’s side / She takes his hand / Forgiveness / Can you imagine.
At the Easter Vigil, in a dark church, we will proclaim the unimaginable. We are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. God promises new life. Life goes on. And there is hope. There is hope in our darkest night. Hope when our wintry hearts are laden with sorrow and fear. Hope as we walk through the graveyards of our lives. And hope as the tears fall.
The mystery of faith. Can you imagine.