Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fifth Sunday in Lent Year A

Fifth Sunday in Lent A

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
(Revised Common Lectionary)

A poet prone to visions, Ezekiel finds himself in a valley littered with the bones of fallen fighters for Israel, a scene not so unlikely. He lives in a time when the humiliated, defeated king and most of the people of Israel had been marched into exile. Ezekiel's vision only needs vivid re-telling, not interpretation. The poet prophecies new life even standing surrounded by the remains of past death and destruction.

Psalm 130 is a concise, strong reminder of Yahweh's complete, perfect power and equally complete, perfect forgiveness. The vivid image of a watchman huddling in a tower, peering into the gray, sullen sky, looking for the first dawn of sunlight works wonderfully. Although he knows from past experience dawn always comes, he still is renewed, restored with its daily appearance. Then he has the privilege of conveying the news. His announcement to those below means all can start a new day, new life.

Reflecting his eras obsession with the transience and arbitrariness of life, Paul juxtaposes the body, which fails and finally dies, with "the Spirit" which comes from outside this life and, for those who believe, it "gives life to your mortal bodies."

Because the common belief of the day was that the spirit left the body on the third day, Jesus waits until the fourth day, despite his own personal grief at the loss of his friend Lazarus, to dramatize the point: God's power to undo the ravages of death is absolute. The raising is a precursor to his own death and being raised by God.

Whether from the prophets in the bleakest circumstances with no apparent sign of hope to Jesus himself and those who believed his witness, biblical texts assert boldly over and over a claim that meaning persists in human life. Is life merely a fragile artifice that finally returns to dust or is there something more lasting, more enduring? In response to the horrors of the Twentieth century, some influenced by the critique of postmodern ideas have asserted in new ways and with new urgency the biblical claims that our existence is something significantly more than we can reduce to conceptual, manageable terms. And belief/acceptance of this something more-- call it "gift," or "superabundance of meaning"-- infuses this life with meaning that is communitarian and ethical. For one example, John Milbank writes: ""Resurrection is no proof of divinity, nor a kind of vindication of Jesus' mission. And not very good 'evidence' survives, only the record of some strongly insisted-upon personal testimonies." "To remember the resurrection, to hope for universal resurrection, is a 'political' act: for it is the ultimate refusal of all denials of community." "The resurrection is about the persistence of the ordinary...." (The Postmodern God, Graham Ward, ed. 1997, p. 273) Paradoxically, belief in life that persists against decay and even death has implications not for life after death, but life before death! To believe/accept is to make a decision that human life is something more than mere survival. This belief always seems somehow "miraculous," from beyond human accomplishment, from God. Contrasted with the only alternative, it truly honors "persistence of the ordinary."