FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT – YEAR A
“O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them… I will put my spirit in you that you may live… I have promised and I will do it, says the Lord.” Could any words be more pertinent – or more welcome – to us today than God’s words spoken through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel? He uttered that oracle while having a vision of a valley of dry bones; and, as he watched, they came together, recovered their sinews and flesh, and rose up to new life. Ezekiel knew full well that he was dealing with a metaphor. The Israelites living in exile in Babylon complained that they were little more than old bones whose hope for the future had dried up. “Prophesy to the bones, Son of Man. Say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’”
The valley of dry bones may have been a metaphor, but God’s words to them were real. The exiles did indeed return to the land of Israel. And precisely because Ezekiel was speaking metaphorically, his words are of vital importance to us today as we struggle through this Extraordinary Lent that will not issue in the usual drama and glory of Holy Week and Easter in our churches.
“Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.” How well did the prophet look across the centuries to read our hearts and our minds! ”Our hope is lost.” Those words might have been substituted for the message texted by Kious Kelly, nurse manager at Mt. Sinai West Hospital to his sister just before he succumbed to the Covid-19 virus. Or they might be the words of grieving parishioners at St. Brigid Church in Ridgewood who have just lost their pastor, Fr. Jorge Ortiz-Garay, grieving all the more bitterly because they cannot say farewell to him in their beloved church. “We are cut off.” Those might very well be the words of homeless schoolchildren who have no access to wi-fi to participate in their school’s learn-at-home initiative. Or they might be the words of adult children having no access to elderly parents’ bedsides in extended care facilities and nursing homes.
In so many ways, we are like Lazarus in today’s Gospel. We have become entombed in isolation, in anxiety and uncertainty, in financial difficulties, and – in all too many instances – in unassuageable grief. We lie tied hand and foot in the burial cloths of powerlessness, awaiting the call of a voice that speaks calmly but with full confidence, “Come out!”
That voice, of course, belongs to Jesus. “If only you were here,” we are tempted to think, as did Martha long ago, “our future would not be lost. We would not be prone, corpse-like- with worry and despair.” Yet, our participation in this Eucharist – even if it be at a distance – testifies that, again with Martha, we add, “Yet even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
St. Paul today makes the astounding claim, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” It is essentially a repetition of Jesus’ claim in the Gospel today. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
If this were an ordinary Lent, our Easter celebration would culminate in the renewal of our baptismal vows. “Do you believe…?” And our responses would have been routine. “I do.” “Do you believe this?” Jesus asked Martha at Bethany, and her response was anything but routine. “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Pope Francis on Friday powerfully reminded us that this is no ordinary Easter coming toward us, and he challenged us to say, “Yes, Lord, I do believe” in the face of the pandemic.
“I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.”
Despairing voices tell us, “by now there is a stench.” But we listen for the one and only voice that matters, the voice of him who is the way, the truth and the life. “ LAZARUS, COME OUT!”
There are no upcoming events.