We are now at the fifth week of Lent …
- How successful have you been in your Lenten sacrifices?
- Have you made your Easter confession yet?
- Have you been more prayerful, and generous in giving alms?
- Have you seen any progress in your spiritual growth?
As Lent rapidly departs us, this weekend we are reminded that there is still time … to prepare our hearts and minds and very selves for the feast of Easter … with Jesus, hope is not lost, hope is never lost!
The Old Testament reading today from Ezekiel 37 is a story that helps focus our attention on the mystery and majesty of YHWH who knows no death that cannot be infused with life. This day and these readings are reminders to celebrate that fact that the church is in the business of offering life amid what sometimes seems to be a death-dealing culture.
And that culture, both that of Ezekiel's 6th-century world and our own, has never better been characterized than in this astonishing and well-known passage. For we, like they, are dry bones, once marrow-filled skeletons, created by God, now picked clean by a culture intent on death for many rather than life for all.
The text is both historical and allegorical at the same time. It is assumed that Ezekiel went into a Babylonian exile with the first wave of deportees in 597 BCE, a group that was added to when Nebuchadnezzar ten years later destroyed what remained of Jerusalem in a furious rage, capturing and blinding the king, Zedekiah, and herding the last leaders of a shattered Judah eastward to the huge Babylonian capital.
So, when Ezekiel speaks of dry bones in a valley, he means precisely that — dead soldiers after a slaughter, empty lives after a crashing defeat. When YHWH drops him into this silent and terrifying valley of bones, obviously dead and gone, and asks him, "Can these bones live?" the certain answer must be: "Not a chance!"
Yet, Ezekiel does not answer in that way. He says instead, O YHWH God, you know, a delightfully ambiguous response that could mean God, it is your call, not mine.
God makes no appraisal of Ezekiel's reply, but instead in typical divine fashion calls the prophet to his work. Prophesy to the bones, and say to them, 'Thus says YHWH!'
The prophet is then admonished to proclaim an anatomy lesson to the bones, wherein YHWH will provide breath and sinews and flesh and skin such that the bones will leap to life again, until the valley is filled with a standing host, a vast multitude of living beings.
In short, Israel's exile to Babylon is far from the last work of YHWH; the dry bones of defeat and humiliation will become the healthy host of Israel once again. There will be a future and a hope for the scattered people; dry bones will indeed live again.
We hear that message of coming back to life again in the Gospel this week too. We know the familiar story of the death of Lazarus and the grief of his sisters Mary and Martha. I understand how Mary and Martha felt. They had called for Jesus. He was down near the Jordan where John had been baptizing, very close to Bethany and especially close if your dear friend is dying!
But Jesus, doesn’t seem too concerned. He sees a far bigger perspective than everyone else who is in a panic that Jesus hasn’t arrived. Then suddenly, all too suddenly it is too late … Lazarus is dead. It seems as if all human hope is now superfluous. It seems to be too late.
Jesus knows that Lazarus is dead. He tells his disciples this truth. Only then does he decide to go to nearby Bethany. He arrives on the fourth day. The day that is beyond all hope. All through Scripture the third day is the day that God acts. Jesus arrives on the hopeless day, the fourth.
We heard that Jesus bears the ire of Martha, if you had been here, my brother would not have died! Read in Jersey-ese, Where the hell were you?
… After which we hear Jesus himself weeps at his dead friends’ tomb … And then he calls forth life and liberation from the hopeless hole, on the hopeless day, amidst a hopeless crowd. He calls forth life amid certain confirmed, putrefied and stinking death. Jesus gives Lazarus new life and the people new hope.
We have all been there, no doubt, hopeless, anxious, worrying, concerned, even given up. In the dark of failed relationships, failed programs for happiness, failed dreams of beauty and no happy endings. In the entombed hopeless reality of life’s darkness, Jesus reaches out to us too, in a voice that calls our name to give us new life and a new hope.
Just like the dried bones, just like for Lazarus, just like for the challenges of our life, we can have new hope for our planet … all is not lost, all hope is not gone, but we need to act, we need to fall in love with our planet again!
In these days when so many studies show that the planet is disintegrating and being ruined right before our very eyes, we can still stand up, against all the odds, against the contrary voices, against false statistics, against all politics, armed with facts and information, and with hope … to develop a plan, a sustainable plan that will help future generations.
The first step of the plan must be to educate ourselves on the matter. As mature disciples we are challenged to be honest, open, and willing to admit that we do not know all that there is to know, and further to be humble enough to start to learn more, not only about the condition of the planet, but more importantly, on what we can do to help. The bulletin contains some resources for further reference.
This fifth Sunday of Lent reminds us that it’s not too late …
… to better our spiritual selves …
… to increase our prayer, almsgiving, and sacrifice …
… and to better educate ourselves on what we can do to better sustain our planet.
Let’s commit to do this not only for ourselves but for future generations too!