Ezekiel’s vision of the Dry Bones coming together and taking on flesh and new life has always been a favorite of mine and many in the church. (Think song: ‘dem bones, ‘dem bones, gonna rise again) The scene is a great foreshadowing of the Resurrection when, like Jesus, all the bones of the dead will be recipients of New bodies and death will be no more! This is fantastic, almost romantic, when we think of all of our departed loved ones.
But this vision is not so romantic when understood to describe child sacrifice practiced in Jerusalem just a few years before the Babylonian Exile. Why Children? A child is the most vulnerable and valuable offering we can make to God, they thought. The moral decay indicated by this “pagan” practice by a people of faith, in their holy city, explains how easily it was for them to be conquered and taken away as slaves to Babylon. Both Ezekiel, and Jeremiah before him, prophesied and warned their people against this practice and denial of their faith in the living God. But they, like us, were deeply committed to a sacrificial system, which endures to our own day: we continue to sacrifice our young for sacred purpose.
This, in St. Paul’s way of speaking, is to live in the flesh. In the first verse of our reading from Romans he sets up a verb-less spiritual equation: mind on flesh, death; mind on Spirit, life and peace. We can exist in either mind-set. It’s a free choice. Paul knew the choice so well. When he persecuted the new followers of Jesus it wasn’t because of outright hatred. He was just following what he knew to be the way Jews should be to disruptors of their faith. After his conversion Paul realized how easy it is for religious folks trying to do something good and ending up fostering evil.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is notified of the death of his friend Lazarus. It took Jesus a couple of days to process the news and get his equilibrium. He was criticized for his delay. Don’t you care!! He dreaded his arrival. When he got there, all he saw was a hopeless crowd, symbolized by the crying and wailing of the Jews gathered at Lazarus’ tomb (the majority were probably paid mourners), all of this made Jesus damn angry! Our popular English translations (NIV and NRSV) don’t help us understand Jesus’ real anger, translating the Greek words for anger and absolute indignation, as “greatly disturbed” and “deeply moved,” trying to underline Jesus’ compassionate nature. I’m sorry, but the Greek words express outright anger, yes, that his friend lay in death, the crowd carrying on like death was the worst thing that could happen to someone, and no hint of God’s view of death as simply a door to new life. They had completely forgotten the vision of Ezekiel: God will bring life from dry bones!
Jesus’ anger subsided. He would show them something of the glory of God. God brings life out of death. Jesus calls Lazarus’ name and orders him to come out. Lazarus is resuscitated and comes out bound with burial wrappings. “Unbind him and let him go!” Jesus orders. His friend would die one day, but not on Jesus’ watch! Jesus would offer up his own life to someday end a sacrificial system and a culture enamored with death. Why? Why? Why?
The answer: To break our cultural fascination with death and orient humankind to life. The raising of Lazarus (really a resuscitation, Lazarus would die someday) was a miracle. But when Jesus did a miracle, he didn’t do it to win the cheers and admiration of the onlookers (which usually happened), but rather to win over and change human hearts. Jesus’ miracles are intended to change the orientation of our hearts from death to life.
This is why hearing the Gospel is so important: it has the power to change our hearts and orient them away from death to new life, not when we die, but right now. The power is our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus which overcomes the “necessary losses” (book title) we encounter in life. The Baptism in Christ that Jenny will experience on Easter Sunday and we will experience as we renew our Baptismal Covenant with her, centers us, once for all in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We drown/die with Christ in the water of Baptism and rise to New Life forever. Every Sunday for the rest of our lives celebrates the Resurrection, the conquering of every fear. We are totally oriented to life. It’s simple: Mind on flesh, death; Mind on Spirit, life and peace.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.