Summary: March 17, 2002 -- FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 With the LORD there is mercy and plenteous redemption. (Ps. 130:6-7) Romans 8:6-11 John 11:1-45 Color: Purple Title: “Hope is always the “soup of the day.” Ezekiel 37:1-14
March 17, 2002 -- FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT
With the LORD there is mercy and plenteous redemption. (Ps. 130:6-7)
Title: “Hope is always the “soup of the day.”
Verses one to ten, describe a vision. Ezekiel is taken by the divine spirit to a plane of unspecified location. On the plain dry bones are strewn about. The Lord tells Ezekiel to preach his word to the bones. First, the bones re-assembled, the thighbones connecting to the hip bones, etc, as the old song has it. The prophet had to preach again for these human-like dolls, mere counterfeits of human beings, looking marvelous but still dead. They had no “spirit,” yet. On the second try they became filled with “spirit,” and thus truly alive and human. God did this, bringing the dead, the very dead, to life. He did it through his word. He did it for no explicable reason. He just did it, gratuitously.
In verses eleven to fourteen, interpret the vision. Verse eleven, equates the dry bones with Israel and her condition after 587BC. The Babylonian conquest and subsequent transportation of the Jews to Babylon spelled the death of the nation. Israel and her individual members were now the living dead. The nation is a graveyard. Verses twelve to fourteen, tell of God’s intention to turn the graveyard into a grace-yard, restore the nation and each individual to life. This would not be mere existence, sinew, flesh, and skin, but life, spirit.
In verse twelve, I will open your graves and have you rise from them: This interprets the vision. God not only can but will give life to them once again. Death, either physical or metaphorical, does not stymie God. Death does not have the power over God it has over humans. When humans recognize God’s power and submit to it, death is trumped and victory over death is trumpeted.
And bring you back to the land of Israel: Amidst the utter despair of defeat at the hands of an unimaginably powerful human military force, there is this unarmed word from God that the people shall return to their beloved land, given them by God for no reason at all, just because God is like that. The return to the land, however, was meant by God as a signal, a sign, a symbol, for return to living fellowship with him and on his terms. This latter part they would miss or ignore or, at least, fail to put in its rightful central place.
In verse thirteen, this verse repeats the promise but leaves out the part about return to the land of Israel. It emphasizes the personal salvation God is giving to each Israelite. Salvation would rise from the ashes, like the phoenix of mythology rises from its own self-constructed funeral pyre. The Israelites did this to themselves. The Babylonians are only playing their role in God’s plan. The Israelites are suffering the consequences of their own decisions. Like the phoenix, however, they will rise again from the ashes of their own destructive sins. Unlike the phoenix, they will do so on God’s power, not by anything inherent in them. God’s spirit will come upon them and do for them what they cannot do for themselves.
In verse fourteen, I will put my spirit in you that you may live: Implied in this, of course, is that real life, fulfilling life, can come only from living according to God’s spirit, especially as expressed in the terms of the covenant, a covenant the Israelites have consistently violated, causing their death.
The meaning of this text is clear. God has power over life and death and humans should be very careful about despair. Even though the facts of the matter call for despair, faith in God always calls for hope. True, Israel was dead as far as being a nation. True, there was no human basis for hoping that Babylon would ever weaken enough for the Israelites to do what their ancestors did when in Egypt. Or was there? Wasn’t Egypt also powerful? Yet, the people triumphed, thanks to God. Even without faith in God it is really silly to despair, since anything can happen. But with faith in God, recalling his promises, and listening to his word, there is great basis for hope. In fact, hope is always the “soup of the day.”
Now, a person without faith might be able to accept a blind person having sight restored. Such a person would say the reasons for the “miracle,” are inexplicable and leave it at that. However, even a person of faith has problems with a dead person brought back to life. Not a near-dead person, as in the case of those declared clinically dead, yet are brought back, but a really, long-time dead person, what is meant by “dry and bare bones,” in this text. Such an event taxes even faith. Yet, God can do it. Ok, we say, theoretically, God can; he can do everything. But, how about practically? Not “Can he?” but “Would he…ever?” In the gospel for today we will read of just such an even, the resuscitation of Lazarus. However, the return of the exiles from Babylon was right up there on the possibility- probability scale, with the return to life of a dead person- in Israel’s book. And that was the meaning for Israel. Christians see in this text an even deeper meaning. To them, it speaks of the resurrection, not Christ’s but theirs. It speaks not only the resurrection at the end of time, but their resurrection at the beginning of Baptism. That is when the Spirit comes upon the Christian.