John 11:43-45

Friday, March 31
Rev. Phyllis Kersten

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

In today’s passage, Jesus finds himself exactly where we way too often find ourselves, face-to-face with the reality of death. But that is not the end of the story.

“In a loud voice,” John tells us, Jesus summons Lazarus, four days dead, forth from the tomb. And, wonder of wonder, wrapped in grave clothes, Lazarus emerges out of the tomb. What a graphic sign of Jesus’ words about himself and us sheep earlier in John’s Gospel: “The gatekeeper, [the shepherd of the sheep], opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3) Yes, Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, leads us his sheep “out,” out of captivity to death, into eternal life.

Jesus commands those at the tomb who saw the risen Lazarus still encumbered by his grave clothes to “unbind him, and let him go.” From that command, we get our marching orders, too. Those just released from prison, still “bound” by their inability to get a fresh start? “Unbind” them, by helping them get employment. Those “bound” by poverty? The Credit Union Grace helped establish in Austin will help “unbind” them. Those “bound” by racism and discrimination? Speaking out can help “let” them “go.”

The last verse of today’s text indicates that “many of the Jews” who witnessed the raising of Lazarus “believed” in Jesus. But that’s only half of the story. The rest of chapter 11 tells how the religious leaders decided that this one who brought Lazarus back to life must die. But the joke is on them! For, as Audrey West, former Lutheran seminary professor, put it, “There at the tomb of Jesus, death is overcome for good.”

That’s why families can gather around dying loved ones to sing them to eternal life. That’s why Grace funerals are filled with music and song, with death-defying words like these:

            “Thine the glory in the night, no more dying only light!”

Carry us daily, Lord Jesus, from death into life with you. And make us life-bearers for others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

John 11:33-35

Thursday, March 30
Jeff Cribbs

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. 

As a child, I stayed with my grandparents many weekends, becoming very close to my grandmother.   She would allow me to help in the kitchen, and I would stand at the stove stirring the tapioca pudding or homemade butterscotch custard for the Sunday dessert.

My grandmother passed away when I was seven years old. There were no cell phones then or pictures to capture anything that day. I cannot remember who was in charge of watching me, as my father (an only child) was likely both tending to funeral matters and sheltering me from his grief with my mother by his side. Maybe I was asking too many questions. I only remember the words, “Your grandmother is never coming back.” And then I wept. 

Jesus wept. Perhaps the two most powerful words of Jesus taking on our nature, becoming like us with our human affections. Relational and understanding, a real connection to what it means to be human with all the fragility life on earth entails. 

Fast forward fifty years later, I lost my father. Although not unexpected, I felt deep pain. He would no longer be there for planned weddings, eventual births, and many other family celebrations. So it is with losing friends who bring meaning to my life and all the now unmet plans for future journeys together.  Unfortunately, so many others have their own more tragic and poignant experiences with loss and the continuance of life after loss. The church is my comfort during these moments.

In Eugene Petersen’s “The Message,” verse 33 is translated as “a deep anger welled up within him.” One interpretation is that Jesus’s anger is his response against death’s power over us, much different from our likely emotional state. Thus, Jesus conquered death for us through his resurrection, just as he did for those weeping and mourning the death of Lazarus. So likewise, through faith, we can be free from our fears, loss of control, and destructive behavior in the face of inevitable loss.  

The communion table is where we remember Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection, which gives us hope. We commune with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ, connecting with those who have gone before us. What a gift of connection and community that captures the essence of our faith!

Good and gracious God, I offer my thanks for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ. Help me to stay connected and grounded in my faith so that I may experience the joy and peace of communion with others and all who have gone before.  Amen.

John 11:25-27

Wednesday, March 29
Neal Armstrong

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come.”

I was walking to the train pondering thoughts for this devotion while listening to worship music when suddenly a song came on and I immediately found myself in conversation with Jesus. I was thanking him for bringing my parents through the sudden loss of their independence which occurred this time last year. A challenging time for everyone, involving anxiety, anger, exhaustion, sadness, and depression, an experience many of us have endured or will.

For months I was driving to and from St. Louis weekly, to tour facilities, visit mom in rehabilitation, or empty their house in preparation for sale. During those drives, I was alone and would experience every range of emotion, sometimes all within a span of minutes. I listened to a lot of Christian music along the way. When certain songs came on, I really felt the Lord’s presence and was filled with a sense of peace. These moments were a source of strength. As I thought more about that experience, I realized I find personal encounters with Jesus quite often through music. There are certain songs that bring me into a very personal authentic experience with him. I put these thoughts in an email to myself and within minutes of sending, as I was leaving the train to walk home, my favorite hymn and one of those songs, “How Great Thou Art,” came on. Chills ran through me as it affirmed my approach to this devotion.

My favorite verse, and the one I have told my family, that when the time comes, I want sung twice to close out my funeral service, is excerpted below. This stanza also touches on a key theme of today’s reading, believe in Jesus and live even though we die.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And then proclaim, my God, how great Thou art.

When I hear these words, I encounter Christ in a personal manner filled with peace and comfort.

Lord, help us find close personal encounters with you that bring us peace and invigorate our faith. Amen.

John 11:11-15

Tuesday, March 28
Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.  Then Jesus told them plainly “Lazarus is dead.  For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.  But let us go to him.”

So many questions arise as I read these few verses. To begin with, rationalists say that miracles are a violation of nature. And then there is the problem of Jesus’ timing, which seems curiously “off.” Why does Jesus wait to raise Lazarus? If he knew his friend was seriously ill, why did he not intervene sooner? Poor Lazarus. Jesus has healed at a distance before. Why couldn’t he have healed at a distance this time? But Jesus says that he is glad that he was not present to heal Lazarus so that when the disciples witness the miracle, they will believe. They have witnessed Jesus’s miracles before. Why do they need to witness this particular miracle, which required the suffering and death of his dear friend and the deep mourning of Mary and Martha? Does Jesus care?

This question is really one for theodicy to address—why does God permit evil if God is good?  And it is a question which is asked daily, hourly even, in this world of injustice and suffering. 

Sleep is healing, the disciples say, and if Lazarus has fallen asleep, he is going to survive this illness.  Jesus corrects them and tells them that Lazarus is dead. But the disciples are not wrong. Lazarus will indeed survive this sleep because God is revealing God’s self in Jesus. Does God care?  Deeply. But as C. S. Lewis has said, “God does not shake miracles into Nature at random as if from a pepper-caster. They come on great occasions: they are found at the great ganglions of history.” And this is one of those moments, one of the greatest, when Jesus reveals his true identity, his authority, and his compassion. The stage is set for what is to come, the miracle of God on the cross dying, and of God resurrected.

Dear Lord, bring us healing. Bring us back to the abundant life we can have in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ezekiel 37:4-6

Monday, March 27
Sadie Berg & Paulette Reddel
Confirmand & Mentor

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Hear the word of the Lord

It’s hard to read today’s text without humming a few lines from the spiritual “Dem Bones” composed by brothers James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson in the early 1920s. (Click here to hear the original!) The brothers, inspired by the prophet Ezekiel’s story, wrote lyrics to highlight his message.

A valley of bones scattered haphazardly onto dry, barren earth does not sound like a pleasant place to visit. But in a vision, Ezekiel, already living under Babylonian captivity, is instructed by God to go to that very place. No, not to participate in an archaeological dig searching for dinosaur bones, but to speak directly to them.

As Ezekiel enters the valley of bones, he announces God’s intent: “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:5-6)

God does not leave those bones languishing, but as the emerging skeletons fill with the breath of life, God covers them with muscles, tissues, and finally with skin. They are whole. The valley of bones is alive with God’s beautiful handiwork! The house of Israel has not been forsaken.

Injustice and suffering continue to enter our world. Victims of violence in neighborhoods or war-torn Ukraine cry out to God. Help! The valley of bones is a very lonely place to be.

But like Ezekiel, we must be part of delivering God’s message of hope. That happens when we find opportunities such as serving at Harmony Church’s food pantry, teaching in evening tutoring sessions, helping refugee families resettle in Chicago, volunteering at Beyond Hunger food pantry in Oak Park, or providing legal aid to formerly incarcerated individuals. Together we try to “open the windows” letting God’s spirit flow freely.

“Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around
Hear the word of the Lord.”

Dear God, help us to fulfill the words of God like Ezekiel did, and bring hope to people who are in need in any way we can. Amen     

Psalm 130:5-6

Sunday, March 26
Katharine Roller

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning—yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

Each year, the liturgical calendar gives us an opportunity to practice the art of holy waiting. Each Advent, we re-learn the art of joyful anticipation, knowing that Christ is coming soon, making our hearts and homes ready for his birth. For me, this past Advent was the most meaningful of my life: on the first Sunday of Advent, I found out that I am expecting a child.

This news was, itself, the culmination of almost a year of hopeful and prayerful waiting—and, in truth, many more years than that. During those years of sometimes painful waiting—particularly as friends started their families, and, meaning well, told me how lucky I was to have my independence and not be “burdened” by children—the greatest blessing was my deep certainty, strengthened through conversation with God in prayer, that God was calling me to the vocation of motherhood and would not let it slip from my grasp, even if God’s timetable didn’t look like the timetable of my friends and classmates. In his word, I had hope.

Now, I wait again: a different kind of waiting, one with a due date! I am still so much in need of God’s help, and the prayers of those around me—but if God wills it, the years of waiting will come to an end. No more watching for the morning: there will be a new day, bringing new challenges and, I am sure, new encounters with Christ.

I can’t wait.

Lord of long-awaited endings and of new beginnings, our hope is ever in you. Grant us patience and forbearance as we watch for the morning—and grant us also the wisdom to know when the time for waiting is over, and the courage to act when that moment comes. Amen.

Ephesians 5:8-9

Saturday, March 25
Rev. Frank Senn

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of the light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

We know what it’s like to open the shades in the morning and let in the blinding sunlight that causes us to rub our eyes and stumble around until we get our bearings. This is what Lent can be like. It is a time to prepare for Baptism or to renew our Baptism. In the Eastern Churches, Baptism was also called enlightenment. Candidates for Baptism, who were removed from the darkness of the pagan world, were brought stumbling into the Light of Christ. And Christians who had fallen away were exhorted to “live as children of the light.”

“Light” stands for the good life lived in obedience to the teachings of God, “darkness” for its opposite. The source of our “enlightenment” is Christ, the light of God who has come into the world. Before our enlightenment our minds were darkened. We can stumble back into it. Lent calls for stumbling back into the light of Christ.

Our enlightenment is manifested in our moral behavior. A trio of virtues—doing good, acting justly, being loyal (“yours truly”)—is contrasted with a trio of vices earlier in this chapter – being a fornicator, impure, greedy (that is, an idolater) (5:3, 5). The ancient Christians had been removed from a pagan world when enlightened by the light of Christ, and it should show. By our behavior we are witnesses to our enlightenment in our interactions with others and in our personal integrity.

Lord God, by the Spirit that enlightens all who are called by Baptism into Christ to live as children of the light, enable us during this Lent to do good works, to engage in just actions, and to be reliable disciples, to the honor and glory of your Holy Name; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the world. Amen.

John 9:39-41

Friday, March 24
Stan Reddel

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”  Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, ‘We see’, your sin remains.”

In these verses Jesus is addressing the Pharisees—they who thought they knew everything spiritual. They were sure they knew the way God worked and were blind to their own self-sufficiency and arrogance. They were blind to God’s love right in front of them in Jesus. They couldn’t see.

However, these verses are not meant for us to judge others but to look inward and to be self-reflective.  I have attended church for 75 years, attended a Lutheran grade school, and a Lutheran university. I am pretty sure I am doctrinally correct and am well-versed in the Lutheran tradition.  But this personal legacy makes me vulnerable to the “Goldilocks syndrome.”

People that are more religious than me are zealots and too fanatical (Bible-thumpers). Those less religious than me are borderline atheists and at best lapsed Christians. Of course, I have just the right amount of spirituality (not too much…not too little…but “just right”). 

Oops, now whose pride and arrogance are getting in the way of God’s truth? Sometimes we just love the darkness and hate the Light. My default setting of selfishness is getting in the way. To paraphrase (I John 1:8), when we think that nothing is wrong with us, everything is wrong with us.

Dear God, I need your grace to have sight, to see, to humbly recognize my need for Jesus’ redeeming love.  Amen

John 9:35-38

Thursday, March 23
Darlene Miscovic

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

Today’s verses are about the man born blind’s second encounter with Christ. On the first encounter, Christ gave him physical eyesight, but the man and the healing faced rejection by the church establishment. When Jesus hears about this, He seeks the man out. 

Then Christ offers him an even greater gift — salvation. Christ asks the man born blind, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Despite being able to physically see him and wanting to believe, the man doesn’t recognize Christ as the Messiah. The lyrics of a contemporary praise song capture his desire with the phrase, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you.” When Christ says he is the Son of Man, the man immediately understands he is the Messiah, professes his belief and worships him. 

The question Christ asked is the key question for us as well: Do we believe in the Son of Man?  A recent study reported that about three-quarters of Americans agree that Jesus was a real person, but more than half think he is only human and not divine. They are seeing but not believing.

Thanks to being raised in a Christian home, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Christ or believe in him as my personal Savior. But there is a point in the service each week when I have the opportunity to reconfirm that belief.  It’s when we say the Creed—

I believe in God, the Father almighty . . .
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord . . .
I believe in the Holy Spirit . . .

Too often I find myself simply reciting these statements and not remembering their profound meaning. It is for us as it was for the man born blind. Our salvation depends not on knowing the Son of Man but in our belief in Him.

Dear Christ, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we see you as our Messiah and Savior. Help us to follow the example of the man born blind, truly believing and worshiping you. Amen.

John 9:4-5

Wednesday, March 22
Sabrina Maggio

“I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Jesus says this in reference to helping a blind man see in this ninth chapter of John. I admit that I didn’t read the rest of the chapter initially—I just read this verse, much like most of my Bible reading experiences. And at first glance, I interpret this verse to mean go spread God’s word and hurry it up, time is ticking. As a teacher and a mom, it seems only natural that I interpret this verse as yet another task on my to-do list. And I sigh and say to myself “One more thing to do. Do the laundry. Pick up the kids. Plan the lessons. Read the IEP. Re-plan the lessons. Play with the puppy. Do the dishes. Organize a playdate. Sign up for all the summer camps. Be the light of the world.”

Later, after reading the verse more in context with the chapter, I see this verse as encouragement: do the good work that God would want you to do. Do it now while we have the voice and the time. But, the question still looms, what does that work look like? The teacher in me wants a bullet-point list, but the Christian in me says there is no list. Doing God’s work ranges from something as simple as showing kindness to a stranger, loving your family, and raising your kids to be good and decent people, to more complex things like leading a classroom with love and compassion, donating money to good causes, or doing mission work in places where it’s needed most.

The last part of this verse is my favorite though. Jesus says, “as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” This is a call to action: People, let’s be the freakin’ light! Will it be the same light as Jesus? Well, no. His light is more like perfect sunlight shining through an ozone layer that isn’t damaged so it’s not super dangerous and no one gets burnt. The light of Jesus in this chapter made a blind man see. Our light is more like the sun on a partly cloudy day, in the present-day, very damaged ozone layer. It’s limited, with obstacles (clouds, smog, etc.) that prevent us from giving the purest light possible. But what we can do as mere, flawed mortals … is our part. While we will not physically give sight to the blind, we can do our part to spread this light, do the good stuff, be an example of God’s love. When I look at it this way, my to-do list isn’t quite as daunting (except for signing up for summer camps). Nothing, not even reading 16th-century French literature is harder than that.  Jesus’ light was perfection; ours will be dimmer, but as long as we are here, let’s do our part.

Gracious God, grant us the courage and the confidence to follow Jesus’ example and do our part to be the light of the world as long as we are here. May our good works brighten a world plagued with the darkness of corruption and violence. Amen.