“O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” To the modern ear these words from the Prophet Ezekiel might seem more terrifyingly “Walking Dead” than an early reference to the resurrection. J. R. R. Tolkien, influenced in no small way by his Catholic faith, imagined an army summoned from the dry bones of the dead by Aragorn to rescue Gondor in the Lord of the Rings.
However, even as we move ever closer to Passion of Christ our readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent already point us to the hope of the resurrection. But this is no zombie state or ghost-like presence evoked by the prophet. Rather, the Spirit of the God of Israel himself will be given to God’s people and the Promise – which would seem to be as dead as the people’s bones – lives!
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans describes lives enlivened by the Spirit of God, by Christ living in us. This same Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead – an appropriate reminder during Lent, because Lazarus, though raised from the dead, would eventually die. After all, this is before the resurrection of Jesus, before death was conquered, before it was possible to live in Christ rather than in death.
For you see, death is a great power. Even in a culture like ours that denies death in so many ways, death in fact reigns in much of what we do. Friendships, family, government, health care, family, religion…can all be ruled by death.
A quick glance at the political issues of our day and the solutions sought show ways in which death seems determinative: abortion, child poverty, health care, civilian casualties in war, rape, domestic violence, hunger, nativism, racism, nuclear weapons, human trafficking, assisted suicide, insurance, actuary tables, budget savings, alienation, loneliness, revenge.
Perhaps we should not be surprised – but surely we are! – that it was this seventh sign in John’s Gospel that sent the religious leaders scrambling to discover a way to kill Jesus. Early in Mark’s Gospel it was a simple question about whether or not it was better to do good or to kill. The religious leaders couldn’t even answer that…they were silent (and then plotted with their religious and political rivals to destroy Jesus).
Death builds political alliances, distorts our consciences, makes us think in terms of expediency and ends-justifying-the-means.
But death is not the greatest power in the world. It is not the last word. The last word is the same as the first word: Jesus Christ. Resurrection life is life lived in resistance to the determining power of death. Resurrected life is life witnessing to the power of death broken and true humanity freed. Jesus – true God and true man – lived this life, died as a result, and lives to forgive, to free, to tell the truth, and to lead us into that same abundant life.
As we get closer to the cross, what open wounds do we see, in others, in ourselves? How will we become what Henri Nouwen called “wounded healers”? As we look around at our world at the graveyards, dry bones, and half open tombs, how can we look for signs of life and seek resurrection? How will we open our hearts to that that greatest moment of resistance of all – when God said, NO – death does not have the final word! It is not the greatest power!
So, as we walk together towards the cross, let us choose life – and that life not just for ourselves or those we deem worthy of life. Let us embrace the freedom of God’s love which gives extravagantly to those in need, in desperation, out of luck. Our lives are not determined by death but by the God of life. Thanks be to God!
Director, Office of Life, Justice and Peace