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LENT 5 2020

The Tomb

In the 5th week of Lent, we stand on the threshold of Passiontide and see Holy Week on the near horizon.

Lent, does not so much end as slide seamlessly into the commemoration of Christ’s suffering and death, and the celebration of his resurrection.

The Gospel for the 5th Sunday in Lent (John 11:1-44) presents us with the entombed Lazarus, awaiting the divine wind that brings a reviving breath to the dust of the earth. The image has echoes back to week 1 of our Lenten journey when we reflected upon how God, having created man form the dust of the earth, breathes life into him.

Like Lazarus in the tomb, the Christian in Lent waits for a word from the mouth of the Creator at whose command all things are renewed.

Jesus’ miraculous raising of his friend in John 11 points forward to his own resurrection.

It also looks backward to all that has gone before in the gospel story, representing the whole of Jesus mission to confront the power of sin and death.

The miracle of life restored to Lazarus stands for the whole of Christ’s mission to renew the face of the earth.

Perhaps we may begin to recognize, in the dryness and unresponsiveness of our own dusty hearts, something of the return to dust that is the power of sin at work.

Sin, that dusty dryness, we recognize in ourselves that regularly turns us away from the offer of new life that Jesus brings.

Another reading for the 5th Sunday in Lent is in chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel.

In it the prophet is carried by the Lord’s Spirit into a great valley, filled with the dried out bones of the once great people of Israel.

Ezekiel’s vision concerns the state of God’s people in exile drained of all true life and sick in soul. But, his vision also depicts the affliction we discover within ourselves as we struggle to hear the call to conversion.

The vision begins with a disconcerting scene.

37:1-3 I felt the powerful presence of the Lord, and his spirit took me and set me down in a valley where the ground was covered with bones. 2 He led me all around the valley, and I could see that there were very many bones and that they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?”

Ezekiel sees in the exiled Israel of his time, a community in whom the death-dealing power of sin is all but complete.

This is a people reduced to a valley filled only with any human sense; all hope has gone from these exiles. In the vision the bones are not simply dead, but dried out, bereft of a future, of connection to God and to one another.

They say, “ Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely”

In this prophetic moment Ezekiel envisions a re-creation from the bare dust of the whole house of Israel.

It is only by a fresh act of creation from God that there can be any future for his people.

Ezekiel is instructed to speak God’s word of new creation.

37v12-13 “12 So prophesy to my people Israel and tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am going to open their graves. I am going to take them out and bring them back to the land of Israel. 13 When I open the graves where my people are buried and bring them out, they will know that I am the Lord. “

In his vision the prophet sees tombs opening, and the valley of bones transformed. The scattered bones are brought back together by God’s creating word, once more forming the bodies of flesh from which life had fled.

The God of Israel instructs the breath of life to return to the people whose hope has perished.

37v9-10 “9 God said to me, “Mortal man, prophesy to the wind.[a] Tell the wind that the Sovereign Lord commands it to come from every direction, to breathe into these dead bodies, and to bring them back to life.”

10 So I prophesied as I had been told. Breath entered the bodies, and they came to life and stood up. There were enough of them to form an army.”

Ezekiel speaks an Easter hope to the Lord’s people of his own time, and into times to come.

A hope which will reach it’s fulfillment in the mysteries of Easter Sunday and the Day of Pentecost, as the Risen One stands among his desolate dispirited friends. Friends, who had been hiding behind locked doors in fear for the lives, crying out “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost”.

Jesus appears to them and breathes a life giving spirit upon them,

“He breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22)

And so, as our Lenten journey continues, perhaps our prayer can be,

“Come from the far winds, O breath, and breathe upon those slain that they might live.”

Loving God, hear our cry


Redeeming God, rescue us


Spirit of God, breathe on us


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