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Lazarus, come out! – Br. James Koester

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Yesterday was a spectacular day! The weather made it a perfect spring day and so I decided to make the best of it and spend the afternoon in the bee yard at Emery House. Of the nine bee hives I had last fall, eight survived the winter. The ninth hive unfortunately died. It must have starved sometime in January when it was so cold that the bees could no longer access the food they had stored last summer. Of the eight hives that survived the winter, seven are bursting with bees. The eighth hive seems to be a little slower in recovering. For the last several weeks I have been feeding the bees a sugar candy to make sure they survived the last of the cold, snowy days and that they had enough food to get them through until the nectar begins to flow and the flowers produce their pollen. Yesterday I decided to switch their food and feed them sugar syrup, into which I was able to put some antibiotics in order to give them a boost as they head into the spring honey flow. As I peered into the hives, I couldn’t help but see how they were bursting with bees and while I only looked down into them through the open top I knew they were thriving. It seems that wherever I looked yesterday life was literally erupting around me.

The snowdrops have been blooming for nearly three weeks and the deep blue squill for just over two. The crocuses seem to be taking over one of the embankments along Emery Lane and two days ago the first of the daffodils in the meadow between the main house and the hermitages blossomed. Suddenly the meadow seems to be speckled with yellow. Unlike you who have yards and lawns, I eagerly await the last week in April when the first dandelions should bloom marking the beginning of the first real honey flow of the season. It seems that wherever I looked yesterday life was literally erupting around me.

Just as the first snowdrops were blooming we received our shipment of day old chicks. Thirty of them which had hatched on a Monday arrived in a cardboard box, in the US mail of all things, the following Wednesday. Two day old chicks are tiny, and fluffy, and these at least, mostly yellow. They were picture perfect. In days they had doubled and tripled and quadrupled in size and their tiny feathers began to be visible. Today they look more like small chickens than the chicks they were when they first arrived. It seems that wherever I looked yesterday life was literally erupting around me.

For months now the chickens have been literally cooped up in the hen house. We have fifteen of them and during the winter they have mainly stayed inside the hen house pestering each other and generally being frustrated that they couldn’t get out, but as you know the snow was too deep, the weather too cold and the days to short. But yesterday they were out in their yard dashing here and there, pecking and scratching and looking for worms and bugs and other delicious tidbits. They are back to laying eggs again and rather than the one or two or three a day we got over the winter, we are now getting six or seven or eight. As the weather improves and the days lengthen those fifteen hens should be laying about a dozen or so eggs a day. Yesterday, after a long winter, was a good day to be a chicken! It seems that wherever I looked yesterday life was literally erupting around me.

What with the bees and the flowers and the chickens, it’s not hard to be caught up in the rhythm of life and this sense that life is literally erupting around me wherever I look. But one doesn’t need to live at Emery House to notice that life has a way of bursting in on the scene, even when and where one least expects it. Life arrives at our doors and enters our world every day if we are prepared to notice it, because that is God’s desire for creation. God’s desire for creation is that it lives!

Sometimes life lies hidden and buried under banks of snow, or in seemingly dead and lifeless beehives, or mysteriously within an egg. But under and in and within, life is literally waiting to erupt at just the right time, at just the right moment, because that is God’s desire for creation.

Sometimes life lies hidden in piles of dry bones, or the lifeless, enshrouded body of a much beloved, but very dead brother. But under and in and within, life is literally waiting to erupt at just the right time, at just the right moment, because that is God’s desire for creation of which you and I are a part. God’s desire for us is not death but life in all its abundance and we see this most clearly in Jesus who came that we “may have life, and have it abundantly.”1

We are surrounded by death and at times can be overwhelmed by it. We are confronted by death day by day in the soggy brown leaves littering the bare soil under the last remaining snow; in the inexplicably dead beehive which starved sometime in January; in the chick that was fine yesterday but whose lifeless body was found in the brooder this morning; in the chicken last seen happily scratching in her yard but who became supper for a swooping hawk. And if we choose to, we too can live half dead lives overwhelmed and burdened by the death we see all around us. But that is not God’s desire for us. God’s desire is that we have life, and have it abundantly.

We are surrounded by death and at times can be overwhelmed by it. We are confronted by death day by day by the absence of those whom we love but see no longer2, by the horrors of war and the images of destruction and the brutality of poverty and violence. We are confronted by death day by day as we gaze at the photograph sitting on our dresser or hanging on our walls of parents or children or friends, who are long dead but not forgotten. We are confronted by death in images from Iraq and Afghanistan and Gaza, Japan and New Zealand, Haiti and our own inner cities. And if we choose to, we too can live half dead lives overwhelmed and burdened by the death we see all around us. But that is not God’s desire for us. God’s desire is that we have life, and have it abundantly.

We are surrounded by death and at times can be overwhelmed by it. We are confronted by death day by day in broken relationships, in families torn apart and marriages ended, in sickness and disease sapping the life from someone once vibrant. And if we choose to, we too can live half dead lives overwhelmed and burdened by the death we see all around us. But that is not God’s desire for us. God’s desire is that we have life, and have it abundantly.

Ezekiel knew this. Paul knew this. Martha and Mary and Lazarus knew this. God’s desire for us is that we have life in all its abundance. Those dry bones discovered this. The Christian community in Rome heard about this. Martha and Mary saw this. Lazarus experienced this. Jesus shows us this. God’s desire for us is life, if only we have the eyes to see.

All around me at Emery House, life is literally erupting in the flowers and the bees and the chickens. You can’t contain it, or stop it, or prevent it. Life is erupting in all its abundance. And that is God’s desire for you. All around us in scripture, life is literally erupting in the bones, in the words of Paul, in the body of Lazarus. You can’t contain it, or stop it, or prevent it. Life is erupting in all its abundance. And that is God’s desire for you.

Sometime before the dandelions bloom and the honey flow begins, and the bees once more gather nectar, Christ will emerge victorious from his tomb reminding us that God’s desire, not just for the flowers, and the bees and the chickens, but for us, is that we have life in all its abundance.

Sometime before the dandelions bloom and the honey flow begins, and the bees once more gather nectar, Christ will emerge victorious from his tomb reminding us that God’s desire, not just for those dry bones, or the people of Rome, or that family in Bethany, but for us, is that we have life in all its abundance.

Today as those flowers bloom, as those bees buzz and as those chickens cluck, as those bones rattle, as the people of Rome ponder, as Mary and Martha rejoice I hear the words of Jesus crying out to me “James, come out!” because God’s desire for me, and for you is life, in all its abundance.

So today, look at the flowers, hear the bees, listen to the birds and know that God is calling you out of death into the abundant life of Christ who cries out to you: Lazarus, come out!

1 John 10:10

2 BCP 1979, page 504: “Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer….”

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9 Comments

  1. The Rev. Dr. Virginia W. Nagel on April 10, 2019 at 12:19

    Dear Father Superior,
    Your sermon/devotional took me way back in years, beak in fact to 1943 when I could still hear and was living, as an ecauvated child, with Mt grandparents on their tiny farm in upstate NY, in the Hudson Valley. My father was in the Army, stationed at Ft. Totten on Long Usland, and when U-boats were seen in LI Sound, the Army ordered that small children (except for nursing infants, which included my baby sister) be evacuated inland. So my parents escorted me via the old Hudson River Day Line boat (it was cheap) to Albany, where Grandpa and Grandma cooed over baby sister and then took me and my liggage home to their farm, three whole acres in the foothills of the Adirondacks. Mom, Dad and baby Kay returned to NYC on the next boat..

    After I got done crying for Mamma, I loved going around the farm with Grandpa. He was actually a master carpenter, but during the war you couldn’t get building materials. So he was doing war wirk…at the Army supply depot in Schenectady, which supplied all the troops in the European and North African tgeaters. His little farm was not a business farm, just an eating farm, intended to feed the family while his cash (in oeacetime) came from building and remodeling houses. We had no plumbing and no electricity, and heat was furnished by a big black coal stove in the kitchen and a parlor stove in the living room. We had a spring in the back yard and also a pump. Spring water was fir drinking and cooking, pump water for everything else. Stovepipe from the two coal stoves went up through the ceiling to heat (?) bedrooms. Baths were on Saturday night in front of the kitchen stove, morning and evening wash-ups from pitchers of water, kept warm by wrapping in towels, in china washbasins in the bedrooms….brrrr. Kerosene lamps and candles provided lighting.

    Grandpa raised pigs, chickens, occasionally ducks, turkeys or geese, and when there were children in residence, a milch cow. He also had a hive of wild bees which he had tamed or rather domisticated over the years, in one if the pastures, and had three large vegetable gardens. There were wild blueberry, raspberry and blackberry, and grape, bushes and vines along the stone walls, a smokehouse where bacon and ham were smoked in the fall, a large root cellar and a large canning cellar, and a cistern which was replenished by rainwater. Every three or four years, geese chicks were ordered, so that Grandma would have a supply if feathers for featherbeds. My first day there, it was in July, Grandma said that since we grew our own food, we all had to help with the work of getting it. I was “invited” to accompany Grandma to the hen house where I watched her gather eggs, feed the chickens, and muck out the henhouse, then walk around the fence around the hen yard to make sure there were no loose places where the chickens could get out. After a couple if days she showed me how to get the eggs out from under the hens….scary, they pecked at my hands. A couple weeks later, gathering eggs and feeding hens became my job, along with pumping water. Gradually I was taught other chores suitable to my age and ability.
    By V-E day, I was weeding gardens, plucking chickens for Sunday dinner, washing and refilling Kerosene lamps, doing simple cooking, and helping look after baby chicks (yes, the mailman brought tgem) which we “brooded” under the big kitchen stove until the henhouse was warm enough to move them out there. No electricity in the henhiuse, either, and Grandpa did not trust Kerosene brooders. The last thing I remember hearing was bells and sirens on VE day…and then I came down with meningitis, but that’s another story.

  2. Elissa Henderson on April 10, 2019 at 10:03

    After a night of aches and pains with little sleep, it was glorious to wake up and see the glories of God’s creation. I hope today’s meditation stays in my heart throughout the day to enjoy the world God has displayed before us, as well as to care for those who can’t see the beauty of the world, and to be mindful of those we no longer see or hear.

  3. Jeanne DeFazio on April 10, 2019 at 08:58

    Last night at a publishing meeting of HPA, I mentioned the SSJE morning devotional a d forwarded yesterday’s along to each editor present. God bless you richly. I passed this excerpt along to 10 people to get the word out!

    Today as those flowers bloom, as those bees buzz and as those chickens cluck, as those bones rattle, as the people of Rome ponder, as Mary and Martha rejoice I hear the words of Jesus crying out to me “James, come out!” because God’s desire for me, and for you is life, in all its abundance. So today, look at the flowers, hear the bees, listen to the birds and know that God is calling you out of death

  4. Ruth West on July 24, 2018 at 10:39

    So enjoyed this sermon, Br. James. Thanks for sharing all that life that bursts forth from the dead of winter. Just as Jesus burst forth from the tomb, so we have been called to life everlasting today. REW

  5. Mina Post on September 30, 2014 at 16:15

    How do I sign up for your daily morning meditation?
    Do you have one?

    • Reviewer on October 1, 2014 at 07:25

      Yes, the Brothers offer a daily meditation every day. It is delivered by email at 5:00am each day and it is free. Subscribing is very simple, you can click this link and enter your email address. http://ssje.org/subscribe.html

      • Selina from Western Mass. on April 10, 2019 at 16:23

        Forgive me for not seeing before what marvelous poetry your prose is Brother James! And thank you for prodding me back to life this spring of worrisome news and difficult weather. Bless you and your brothers.

  6. Pam on September 23, 2014 at 15:49

    How wonderful this sounds! How absolutely heavenly to hear the sound of bees coming from not only one hive, but eight hives! What a happy, happy sound 🙂 I do like this Brother James, that God is calling you ( me) out of death. I know this is springtime and everyone is talking about new life but this year, for the first time, it seems possible and I feel sometimes, something bubble up inside of me and sometimes it makes me afraid it will evaporate ……. But lately I’ve been thinking about Luke 4 : 18-21……. The ‘today’ He mentions was actually more than 2000 years ago!

  7. Jeff Spahr on May 19, 2011 at 15:19

    Thanks for this beautiful update on life at Emery House. I was there the first week of March, and there was still over two feet of snow. It’s wonderful to ponder the transformation that took place in the five weeks since I had been there on retreat. Next time I come back, I hope it will be in the springtime or summer. Thanks for being such wonderful hosts! ~Jeff (from Colorado).

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