Sunday 29th March
5th Sunday in Lent
(Sunday reading - Year A)
(Weekday readings - Year 2)
As our Lenten journey continues we are heading towards the darkness, loss and despair of Good Friday. But as if to give us encouragement and hope on the way, our readings today give us a foretaste of Easter which is to come. Jesus literally brings back to life his friend Lazarus. Ezekiel talks of dead bones being brought out of the grave to new life. He may have meant literally bringing dead people brought to life. Or more likely he is using the dead bones as a metaphor for the devastated and destroyed country of Judah- as it was at the time he was writing.
The situation Ezekiel was speaking to is uncannily like our present one, except that it was one brought about by war, not illness. The Babylonian army had swept through the land of Judah killing, maiming and destroying everything in their path. The elite of Judah had been taken into exile to servitude in Babylon. Those who remained toiled on in a land culturally and economically destroyed. It was an unimaginable catastrophe and it marked Jewish history rather as the First World War marked ours, and as the Corona virus will mark ours. Yet in all this destruction, hopelessness and misery, Ezekiel is sent by God to promise hope and renewal- resurrection. How mad and off the wall he must have sounded to those listening to him at the time. Yet he was right. Israel was restored, her fortunes and life did continue.
In the Old Testament plagues, wars and other disasters are usually understood by the people as acts of God intended to punish, change and purify the whole nation. As Christians, we do not believe that God brings down evil on the world so that good may come out of it. (And by the way, some interesting articles are telling us we may indeed have played a large part in bringing this particular viral disaster on ourselves), but we do believe that whatever evil and disaster we create for ourselves, God always uses it to bring his love to bear and create resurrection- new life new hope, change and purification.
Strictly speaking, Lazarus’ coming back to life was a resuscitation rather than a resurrection because presumably, he came back as exactly the same person he was before he died. Resurrection is not usually like that. Jesus’ resurrection was not like that. He was certainly recognisable as the same Jesus who had died, but his resurrection being was transfigured and glorified- as we believe ours will also be for us at our resurrection. We may not expect a perfect world when we recover from the Corona virus. However if we allow God’s will to get its way, we may hope and expect a world that by his grace can be renewed and working to his and our greater good.
We undoubtedly have much darker days to come regarding our current crisis. Yet resurrection will come from it, and by God’s grace, eventually- a world which will have learnt something from its mistakes and taken the opportunity to understand and live life in a new way. In the meantime I see tastes of resurrection all around me in the goodness and selflessness of almost everyone. It’s almost as if a whole urge to look after each other, stranger or friend, has been pent up for years and found an opportunity to burst out. Overnight our society’s value systems have been turned upside down. The values of wealth, competition and consumerism have temporarily evaporated. The values of caring, co-operation and sharing have come to the fore as we have been violently and suddenly reminded of what life really consists of; our common vulnerable humanity and our absolute interdependence on each other.
So in a sense Lent will extend beyond Easter this year. Most of us will have a lot of time on our hands over the coming months. It may be a long time until an Easter ending begins to dawn for Corona. But let’s not waste that God -given time and what is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Over the next weeks and months through our grieves and difficulties, and alongside our many acts of loving kindness, let’s seize on these resurrection seeds to pray, study, think, talk and plan about the sort of world we want to see. This is not a task that can be left just to the politicians, and the many experts who know better than us. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us.