3/29 Readings: Death and Life

5 Lent

Ezek. 37:1-14
Ps. 130
Rm. 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

There are hints of Easter in the lessons, but a grim and graphic Lent is also on display. The prophet Ezekiel, led by the Spirit, was set in the midst of a valley full of dry bones, around which he walked in procession. This lifeless horror of mass death was, we learn, an image of “the whole house of Israel” (Ez. 37:11). In exile among Babylonians rulers and pagan gods, they felt, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely” (Ezek. 37:11). We cannot know exactly what they felt, but we know, many of us, at least, something of it. I am dried up, without hope, cut off, cast down. Would that we did not have to know this, but we do.

To set the mind on the flesh is death,” says St. Paul. Well, almost. The Greek simply says, “The mind of the flesh death,” removing any thought of deliberation and choice. “The flesh” is the condition of opposition to God, hostility toward God, unwillingness to submit to God’s laws. This opposition is precisely and inevitably “death” because God is the source of life and he is Life itself.

Here, too, we recognize something of ourselves, feeling the weight of our sin and the burden of mortality. Insofar as we have declared our independence from God, we have cut off our life-line. In some sense, this happens merely by being human in our fallen state, by an inherited sedimentation of sin upon sin, and the trials of mortal existence. Eventually, we will all be, like Lazarus, four days dead and decaying in a tomb.

Lent tells us about dried bones, hope that is lost, flesh that is going to death. We know all this, and yet do everything to turn away. To be sure, there is also happiness in our lives, joys common and daily and occasionally unspeakably intense and beautiful. Still, a pall is cast over these precisely because they will not last and because they may, at any moment, be taken away.

Is life then only about a tragic end? Many people believe so, and I suspect, though cannot prove, that the growing conviction that death is merely sleep has contributed to the increasing rate of suicides. This deep pessimism is utterly worldly, of the flesh merely, and wrongly excludes all transcendent promise.

Listen! Jesus Christ has come to be among us! He is the one to put sinew and flesh to bone and skin to cover the body. He is the one who pours Spirit into flesh to make a new creation. He is the one who wept with the Martha, and Mary, and the Jews before the tomb of Lazarus. Disturbed in spirit and deeply moved, he cried out, “Lazarus, Come out!” He makes alive by calling the dead to new life, and this pertains both to the promise of the general resurrection and to the life we are living now. We are living in the Spirit. The body as “flesh” which opposes God is headed toward death, and, preemptively, is already dead in the sacrificial death of Jesus. That “mortal body,” however, is being raised from death and transformed by Christ’s indwelling Spirit. Though dying, yet shall we live; for the life of Christ is our life.

How? Through a process of purgation by the indwelling Spirit, all the body feels and knows is exposed and purified, a life-long process in which unruly wills and affections are set in proper order (Collect). This is never achieved perfectly, and so confession is necessary and ongoing spiritual exercise vital. Still, we have a life-transforming Spirit in our mortal bodies.

Look It Up: Ps. 130

Think About It: The father of lies says, “Give up.” God says, “Wait and hope! Receive my Spirit!”


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