Year A: 5th Sunday of Lent

Ezekiel compares the Word of God with bones revived from the grave. Paul expands this idea and states that we can be restored by the Spirit which raised Jesus from the grave.

1 Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11: 1-45

Ezekiel uses the language of extremes to illustrate the character of the Divine-Human encounter.  He invites us to imagine we all lie in our graves. Then he has God saying he is going to open them, raise us up and take us home. The result of this ‘resurrection’ will be that we will know God, his spirit will be in us, we will live – above all knowing that it is God who has done this!  Ezekiel comes close to imagining how God can initiate his conversation with us and still not force us to listen or be partners in that conversation.  If we were dead and then restored to life and health – would we not be curious to know who was responsible? We can see the dilemma faced by all those who struggle to understand why God so totally desires us to dance with him in a lifelong conversation. Or that Ezekiel compares that desire to someone who would raise us from the dead in order to talk to us!  A staggering image which we have domesticated into familiarity but which we must re-discover to appreciate.

Paul takes the image further and confirms that the Christians of Rome are interested in spiritual things: ‘since the Spirit of God has made his home in you.’  How can he say this?  He knows himself that it is the monumental impact of the experience of Christ. The dialogue until then could be described vividly in poetic metaphor as God acting like someone digging dead people up and restoring them to life!  Now the language must take on an immeasurably greater burden of meaning: ‘the spirit of God has made his home in you.’  But there is more: ‘if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself.’   Ezekiel dreamt in imagery of the dead being restored as a picture of what he intuited to be the nature of God’s love for all humanity.  Paul must find language to express his conviction that ‘if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.’  Paul’s language seeks to reflect not some poetic insight into the nature of the God and his love of humanity – but that on a certain day and date within memory, the hard fact is that a man was dead and buried and then was raised up to new life. Ezekiel’s vision is multiplied infinitely and brought to earth in experienced reality. Paul asserts that we will all share in that ‘resurrection’ – that we will become part of the loving, transforming life of God so closely that we become one with God – wrapped up in the wordless Word and Spirit of the Infinite.  Bones truly brought home.

Can we then see how Lazarus was loved back into life so very naturally? The conversations in his home at Bethany with sisters and friends was not over, would never be over. That ‘never’ is betokened by his coming back for a while – an eternal conversation betokened by his ‘second’ life. Why? As John has Jesus say – so that God and the Son of God might be glorified!   Ezekiel imagines that the word of the divine dialogue could be compared with bones revivified from the grave. Paul teases out the great new truth that the Spirit of God is available to all – and so we can all be restored by possessing the Spirit which raised Jesus from the grave. And now comes that man who can say: ‘I am the resurrection.’   We come full circle – from metaphor to reality, from imaginary graves and imagined resurrection as images of what God intends from his love of humanity – to the fact of Lazarus’ return, and then on to the restoration of the whole of humanity achieved by the one restored from the grave.  This miracle is humanity in Christ raised from the grave and taken home.  That is truly ‘Good News’.