This first lesson this week comes from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. This well-known vision of the valley of dry bones features prominently in the first portion of the Easter Vigil, as it establishes resurrection as the antidote to despair. In Ezekiel’s own time, the dry bones were a metaphor for the downcast spirit of the exiled nation of Israel. The prophet showed that the power of God’s life-giving Spirit, seen in the rushing winds can reanimate them, raise them up and send them out to reenter the promised land. When the bones say that they are “cut off completely,” they mean that they are within the power of death. To this, God replies that he will open their graves and bring them up and back to their own soil, with God’s Spirit within them.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains the power of the indwelling Spirit of God: “to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Paul carries resurrection into the realm of Spirit when he writes, “if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” The same God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in believers and gives life to our mortal bodies, allowing us even now to participate in eternal life.
Our gospel lesson this week is the crowning miracle, or “sign” that shows Jesus as the giver of life while at the same time precipitating his own death. The people involved in this episode are familiar to us as great friends of Jesus. When Lazarus fell ill, his sisters Mary and Martha sent for Jesus to come to them and heal their brother. Jesus, whose life we hear was in direct danger, deliberately delayed going to them. Finally, when news arrived that Lazarus had died, Jesus said to his disciples, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” When they arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days; from Martha we hear that there was already a stench. The two sisters each expressed to Jesus their disappointment in his delay, but they also affirmed their belief in him as the Messiah. Jesus went with them to Lazarus’ tomb, and once there, he was overcome with grief and he wept. Death moves Jesus, both in his humanity and in his divinity. Death grieves even God. Still, Jesus affirmed the power of God and promised that those who believe would see his glory. He had them remove the stone from the mouth of the tomb, and while this happened, he prayed. Here is Jesus’ appeal to the power of his Father: “I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” Then Jesus cried out loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did. And many who were there believed.
We see that Jesus trusted completely that his Father would raise Lazarus from the dead. He would carry that same trust, this time for himself, to his own death on the cross. How do we respond to Jesus’ example of such confident dependence on God? It can give us the power of hope in adversity. It can bring the gift of perspective, allowing us to see God at work in our lives. It can help us to trust in God’s providence. We will need such powerful gifts to sustain us through the trials we will share with Jesus in the journey to Holy Week and beyond.