Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Mar 26, 2023

Opened Graves and the Breath of God

Opened Graves and the Breath of God

“I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” These words were spoken to the Hebrew people through the prophet Ezekiel during the time when the Babylonian Empire controlled the land of Judah, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and many of the people had been taken into exile in Babylon. The Lord continued, “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them.” (Ez 37:12-14)

Once the dead have been raised from their graves, the Lord promises to bring them to life by putting his spirit in them. The Hebrew word for spirit is important here. It is the same word that is used for breath and wind. The spirit of God in this passage is God’s breath. In the Garden of Eden, God breathed life into Adam. In the desert, when the dry bones came back together into people in the vision granted to Ezekiel, the Lord breathed life and regeneration into the bones, which became covered once again with muscles, skin, and all that is needed for human life.

When the people see this return from death (and exile), according to the prophecy, they will recognize that the one who has done this is the Lord, the One who keeps his promises.

Jesus confronted the death of his friend Lazarus. St. John tells us the story of how it happened. (Jn 11:1-45) This is the seventh miracle or sign of the divinity of Christ that John describes. Jesus and his friends had left Judea before they received word that Lazarus was very ill. They didn’t go to him right away, but a couple of days later, Jesus told his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” This seemed crazy to the disciples, because the authorities there had just tried to kill him. But Jesus had decided to go, so the disciples went along with him.

Lazarus had already died and been buried for four days when they arrived. Decomposition of the body would have already begun by that point. The sister of Lazarus met Jesus on the road and they talked. Jesus promised her that her brother would rise. She professed faith in the resurrection of the dead.

Now resurrection was a theory being debated by different schools of thought in the Jewish community at the time. Jesus assured her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus was claiming that belief in him would assure life that would never end, even if a person died. What a wild concept! His use of the two simple words, I am, was significant. “I am” is the name of the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel. People did not say this or use these words to describe themselves. Martha expressed her faith that he was the Christ, the Son of God.

Martha’s sister Mary also came and spoke with Jesus, expressing her belief that her brother would not have died if Jesus had only come earlier.

Jesus approached the tomb and ordered that it be opened. With great reluctance, the order was obeyed. Then Jesus prayed before calling, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus, bound in the burial cloths, emerged from the tomb – alive again. Jesus ordered, “Untie him and let him go.”

The breath of God had once again entered into his body. Life had returned, at the word of Jesus. Just as in the time of Ezekiel, the grave had been opened and the dead raised. And once again, the people who witnessed it, believed. They had seen the Lord at work.

St. John is the only one of the evangelists to tell of this incident. His words were composed a long time after the events described, colored by years of reflection and the faith of the community for whom they were written. They are intended to share with us what they as a community had come to understand. In this interaction and gift of new life to Lazarus, God was revealing himself in Jesus.

Years after the raising of Lazarus, St. Paul wrote about the Spirit to the community in Rome. (Rm 8:8-11) He spoke of flesh and spirit. Flesh is the word he used to describe worldly concerns and actions, not all of which were life-giving or good. Spirit is the word used to identify the good actions and loving style of living of followers of Jesus. Flesh is characterized by the concept of sin. Spirit is about life.

Paul says, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” Once again, the breath of God gives life – a life that is stronger than death and continues after the body dies.

So, does this breath of God bring life only when up against physical death? I don’t think so. The holy breath of God is much more than a life preserver ring that is thrown to a drowning person. Besides, there are many situations in which we face danger or metaphorical death. Do I tell that secret that will discredit my former friend? Do I try to get more than my share of the common resources of my community? How can I look like a great person without taking any risks or actually helping anyone? So many ways to put ourselves at the center…

Each of these kinds of situations are dangerous to our fundamental well-being, the spiritual level of our lives. The decisions we make in our interpersonal relations, in our families and professional lives, all of these are areas that can lead us into tombs, tombs into which the Spirit of God is ready to blow life. The Spirit waits to blow renewed life into our interactions and our interior being. As we open to receive God’s breath in our daily interactions, we become more able to pass that life on to those with whom we live and work.

The Spirit blows through all of creation, through each of us and out into our circles. As we receive this breath of love, let us rejoice in the One who loves us and pass it on.

Lent is nearing an end this year. Let us open our hearts to receive the healing breath of God, to emerge with Lazarus from our tombs, as we prepare to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle A


Read More

Posted by on Apr 3, 2022

Doing Something New

Doing Something New

The readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in both Cycles C and A all speak of the ways in which God is doing something new. Once again, we have two possible sets of readings. Readings from Cycle A are used for celebrations of Eucharist in which those preparing for the Easter sacraments are present. Those from Cycle C are used for the others.

In the first reading for each cycle, we hear of God stepping in to do something new. In Cycle C,  Isaiah (43:16-21) speaks for the Lord, telling the people that although in the past the waters of the sea were parted so the people could pass through, now something new was going to happen. Forget what happened in the past, pay attention to what I’m doing now, is the essence of the prophecy. “I am doing something new!” There will be a way through the wastelands, rivers will flow in the desert, wild beasts will honor the Lord, and a new people will be formed to announce the praise of the Lord. All will be new again. A fresh start, so to speak.

The Cycle A reading is from the book of Ezekiel (37:12-14). The Lord promises: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” He promises his spirit will settle upon them, so they will recognize their God. They will return and settle on their land once again. Something new is going to happen.

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy,” sing the people of God in Psalm 126. We have gone forth from our homes in tears, but we return rejoicing. In Cycle A, the Lord’s mercy is celebrated in Psalm 130. “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” All can and will be forgiven. Call out to the Lord, trust in the Lord, and the Lord in his kindness will redeem Israel.

St. Paul assures both the people of Philippi (3:8-14) (Cycle C) and the people of Rome (8:8-11) (Cycle A) of the love of God and promise of new life for those who have faith in Christ. Sharing in the suffering of Christ, turning away from worldly pleasures and ambitions, the faithful believer will be raised from the dead because the Spirit of the Lord lives within them.

In the Gospels we see different stories, but in each God is doing something new. In Cycle C, we hear from St. John about the time the scribes and Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into breaking either Jewish law or Roman law. They brought a woman accused of adultery to him for judgement (Jn 8:1-11). They told him she had been caught in the act, so was clearly guilty as charged. The Mosaic law imposed the penalty of stoning for this offense. What should be done? The trap was subtle. The Romans did not allow the death penalty to be imposed by local authorities. Only Roman authorities could impose that penalty. If Jesus opted for stoning (in accordance with Mosaic law), he would be breaking Roman law. But would he advocate turning her over to the Romans for punishment? That would be unthinkable. What would he do?

Jesus did something unexpected. He simply bent down and began to write on the ground. The accusers kept insisting on an answer, so finally he spoke. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the accusers all left. No one condemned her. Jesus then spoke directly to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

Something new. The possibility of forgiveness for what was seen as a terrible sin. There are several “I wonder” moments in the story. Where was the man who would logically have been present when the woman was seized by the authorities? Was her sin really what we would call adultery, or might she have been the victim of a different crime? If she had been outside her home without a male chaperone, would that culturally have justified an assault on her that could be called or perceived as adultery?

Many possible angles and unknowns in this story. The critical point, however, is that Jesus does not judge as others in his community would have judged the woman. He did not fall into the either/or trap. He did something new and different, something bringing joy to the woman in question and showing the kindness and mercy of God. “Neither do I condemn you.”

We see Jesus doing something new in St. John’s Gospel from Cycle A as well (Jn 11:1-45). Jesus and his friends have gone away from Jerusalem for a while after things got too hot politically. He was in danger of being killed, so he had gotten out of town for a while. Then word came that his good friend Lazarus was dying. The sisters of Lazarus sent word to him, certainly hoping he would come and heal their brother. But Jesus stayed where he was for two more days before traveling to the community near Jerusalem where Lazarus and his sisters lived.

His friends cautioned him that it was dangerous to return to Jerusalem and the nearby towns. But Jesus insisted on returning. Lazarus had died, but Jesus would still heal him. In fact, it would be an even more amazing healing than those performed earlier, so more likely to lead them to belief.

When Jesus meets Martha, Lazarus’ sister, she expresses her belief that Jesus could have saved her brother’s life. She also believes in the resurrection “on the last day.” It is then that Jesus makes an amazing statement. “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live…” Martha expresses her faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God come into the world.

This was truly a case in which God did something new. The name Lazarus speaks of God coming to the rescue at the last moment. Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb four days after Lazarus had died. There was no question about whether or not the man had died. It had been four days. Four days was a legal landmark. The person was not coming back. Possessions could be distributed. All was done and over. But God came to the rescue. Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb, ordering, “Untie him and let him go.” And Lazarus lived again.

The Lord has done great things for us too. What is the Lord doing that is new in our lives? What specifically needs healing in my life, in your life? Where will the Lord call us out of a desert into a rich land? Where will we rise from our tombs of anger, frustration, or apathy? When will we receive forgiveness for the wrongs we have done? Will we recognize and accept the kindness of the Lord come to redeem us too?

Lent is nearing its end. New things are coming. Let’s continue in hope and open our eyes to see the beauty of the new life coming.

Read More