The bones of more than 1500 American soldiers have been brought back from Iraq in the past two years, more in the past year than in the first year. The bones of untold thousands of Iraqis have been buried over the same time period. Israelis and Palestinians are making hesitant steps toward peace, walking over thousands of dead bodies to do so. The Northern Ireland peace process is wavering in light of recent scandals; it too is built on the graves of thousands of people. Can the people that these bones represent come back to life? Not literally, perhaps, but our reading from Ezekiel suggests that God is not finished with any of these groups yet. When God breathes life into an oppressed people, the people feel a new sense of hope, a new commitment to action. When God breathes life into an oppressor, the people feel chastened and commit themselves to move from being oppressors to being comforters and supporters of those most in need. Even a quick glance at Iraq over the past two years, or at Israel/Palestine over the past sixty years, or at Northern Ireland over the past century or more reveals that war is not the answer to the world's problems. War only brings death, misery, and suffering. What oppressed peoples need is not war but peace, the kind of peace that is characterized by justice. Many Christians need to ask themselves whether their primary loyalty is to their country or to their savior. If we answer, "Our savior," then we can take steps to work with God's people to revive the aspirations and dreams of those who now are merely dry bones in the desert, bereft of comfort or hope.
For another discussion of this passage, click here.
For failing to stand against oppression, for joining others in ridiculing another person or class of people, for seeking money more earnestly than I seek your face, for doubting in the face of so many examples of your grace, for having a hard time forgiving others, though you've so often forgiven me, for prayerlessness and restlessness and inattention to your wonders, for neglecting to make full use of the gifts you've given, for feelings of cockiness and pride, for hardness of heart, for ignoring the suffering of others because I was too focused on my own problems, for not seeing your face in the smile of a poor child or in the roar of a waterfall, O Lord, forgive!
For another discussion of this passage, click here.
When dealing with our understanding of reality, there are two primary
schools of thought, materialism and idealism. Materialists believe that
everything that exists is in the physical world, which includes things
like rocks, fish, stars, atoms, and the physical properties that relate
different physical objects together, such as gravity, electromagnetic
energy, and quantum mechanics. Idealists believe that the ultimate
reality is not physical but rather related to the mind or spirit. Most
idealists accept the concept that material objects and properties exist,
but they think that there is something more, something real, beyond the
physical. God, truth, beauty, love, and meaning are not purely abstract
notions or artificial constructs to the idealist but constitute a reality
that is, if anything, more real than the objects we touch, the air we
breathe, and the physical laws that hold the universe together. In
today's reading from Romans, Paul says, "To set the mind on the flesh is
death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace." Clearly Paul
was an idealist. He saw the "things of the spirit"--whether the Holy
Spirit or the human spirit or spiritual realities in general--as key to
authentic Christian living. Sometimes Christians get worked up about
theories like evolution or the Big Bang because they think that these
theories negate the possibility of God. While it is true that some people
who hold these theories are philosophical materialists, many others who
accept them are committed idealists. We idealists who accept the findings
of modern science without qualms do so because we see truth in the
vastness of the universe, with its clusters of galaxies and its constantly
expanding space-time. We see beauty in chaos theory and fractal analysis.
We see truth in the seemingly illogical notions of quantum mechanics.
And we see an incomprehensibly wise and powerful God behind the Big Bang
and the theory of evolution. Instead of fighting one another and other
people of faith, Christians must learn to embrace those with whom we
disagree, even dyed in the wool materialists! Rather than attacking
others, we need to learn to listen attentively and with respect, but we
also need to learn how to articulate our understanding of reality--a
reality in which truth, love, beauty, and God exist and in which there is
meaning in life--in ways that will make those with a different view want
to hear more.
People die every day, sometimes as a result of a long illness, sometimes in accidents, sometimes in natural disasters, sometimes as a result of other natural causes, and sometimes as a result of crime. These people do not come back from the dead. We hold memorial services and graveside services, we bury them in the ground or sprinkle their ashes in the wind, and they are gone, except in our memories. When Jesus visited Mary and Martha after Lazarus had died, the sisters were experiencing the sorrow that comes with losing a loved one. Such sorrow is real, and attempts to minimize the sense of loss because of our Christian faith are misguided. We see Jesus' reaction to their distress in the short but powerful sentence, "Jesus wept." Despite his intention of performing a miracle, which is clearly evident from the beginning of the narrative, Jesus expresses a very human emotion. This emotion is all the more surprising because it appears in the gospel of John, the gospel that most vividly paint the picture of a divine Christ, who even on the cross does not give voice to suffering. In this gospel, Jesus doesn't weep or cry out in pain on the cross, but he does weep to see the suffering of his friends, and perhaps he weeps out of a sense of his own loss as well. As Christians, it is not our duty to try to talk people out of their sense of loss but to travel the road of pain and sorrow with them, as Jesus did. We know, however, that sadness and pain are not the end of the story. Jesus tells Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life." There is hope yet for Lazarus, as there is hope for all who die. Although Jesus may have raised Lazarus from the dead, he was destined to die again, just as our loved ones who have passed on have died, never to return in this life. But that's the key phrase: "in this life." Whereas Job complained that his days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle and come to an end without hope, we do have hope. The eternal life that Jesus offers begins now, and it continues even beyond the grave, as we follow him into other planes of existence beyond resurrection.