The Spirit
  • Sunday, April 6, 2014

5 Lent

Ezek. 37:1-14 • Ps. 130 • Rom. 8:6-11 • John 11:1-45

Though we are still in Lent, there is anticipation in the dramatic retelling of the dry bones story and the raising of Lazarus. Easter is coming, and it will surely come in the only way Easter truth is told, through stories.

How many times has it seemed to God’s people that all hope was lost? “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely” (Ezek. 37:11). Let the story tell itself. The hand of the Lord puts me in the midst of a valley. It is full of bones, very many and very dry. The voice speaks: “Mortal, can these bones live?” (Ezek. 37:3). Walking in the cemetery where the bones of my dear daughter rest, the place also where over many years I have said many times, “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, “ I am faced at moments, among the old trees and the old graves and the river, with my own dark doubt. I am neither sure nor certain. “O Lord God, you know” (Ezek. 37:3). Blessed are those who mourn and believe almost nothing. God is not far from this emptiness.

God works over the dry bones, pulling them together, growing and grafting sinew and flesh, covering the new humanity with new skin. God calls the breath to come from the four winds and breathe upon the slain. Resurrection is this: “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezek. 37:14). Resurrection is the business of God, working precisely in those moments and seasons of life in which it seems that all hope is lost. God so acting. “They lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude” (Ezek. 37:10).

These new bodies are not simply “in the flesh.” Flesh alone would inevitably return to the valley of dissolution. No, the breath came into them, and they lived; and this “Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). To be more specific, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). The contrast of flesh and spirit is resolved as the Spirit elevates and transforms mortal bodies. The whole life of sanctification is presumed in this text: not, as is often thought, a resurrection to occur at the close of the age. The transformation of mortal bodies and carnal affections is the present work of the Holy Spirit. Though the work is thoroughly divine, it is one in which we are to play our part by cooperating in both our own liberation and that of others.

Lazarus is dead. Although informed of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus deliberately delays his return to Bethany. When Jesus finally says, “Let us go to him” (John 11:15), Thomas, who was called the twin, invites his fellow disciples to a death of their own. “Let us go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Thomas is in on the mystery. He knows that Lazarus is every man and woman and child. He knows perhaps as well that Jesus weeps and trembles not for one man alone but for humanity putrid in sin and spent in decaying death. Jesus speaks: “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). Then Jesus speaks directly to us: “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44).

The Church is that wonderful and sacred mystery in which, through word and sacrament, we receive for ourselves the presence of the Risen Lord. It is also the place where we set each other free.

Look It Up
Read Ps. 130:1. I don’t worry about being sure as long as I still have the capacity to cry.

Think About It
Resurrection from death.

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