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Lent reflections (5)

March 14th, 2008 by isaac · No Comments

Lent 5: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45.If there is any single characteristic of Lent, it is that we are humans—and that means we are mortal, we die. During the season of Lent, we contemplate that dark reality because we know that, as Paul says, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you”… and that means us (Rom. 8:11). This is not a call to think that we can rush into new life and bypass all the death. We must remember that Jesus dies, and so must we die, in order to taste the wonders of Christ’s new life.

Jesus’ deep love for his friend Lazarus beckons him into the depths of death—both Lazarus’ and Jesus’. The cave where Lazarus’ body lay reeks of death. And as Jesus decides to return to Judea, he also heads towards what his disciples are convinced will be his and their deaths. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” (Jn. 11:7-8). Jesus journeys into the very real possibility of his own death. And the disciples follow, even though they think they will surely die: “Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’” (v16).

To follow Jesus is to go with him into what may surely lead to our deaths. As Thomas Muntzer said in the sixteenth-century, “Christ…has shown no more winsome love to his elect than this: that he has labored to make them as sheep for the slaughter” (On Counterfeit Faith).
To follow Jesus is to learn how to see a new kind of hope, a hope that crumbles our best dreams in order to create something unspeakably new and wonderful, something that we could never imagine. As the philosopher Jacques Derrida put it, “the hope of redemption must go through renunciation” (God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, p. 182). We surrender our best hopes so we can follow Jesus to the cross, into the depths, and wait there for God to be faithful to his promises: the hope of Christ’s resurrection and the mysterious movements of the Holy Spirit. But this is a hope beyond our best hopes, a divine dream beyond our greatest dreams. We surrender our securities, our hopes, our dreams, and wait for the Holy Spirit to make the unspeakable and unimaginable hope come true.

It is by this same “Spirit of the Lord” that Ezekiel is taken “into the middle of a valley” where a multitude of deaths call out from the human remains lying at his feet (Eze. 27:1-2). God takes Ezekiel to the place where it looks like all hope is lost. The dead bones declare their despair: “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely” (v11). But this is exactly the place where God moves. God makes the impossible possible: “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live” (v14). God promises to breath into us new life as we die to ourselves.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord” (Ps 130:1). The Psalmist knows this hope that comes to us in our depths. “I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning” (vv5-6). We can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make our lives better. That’s the gospel of self-help; that’s the American dream. The gospel of the Psalmist is one that witnesses to our only hope by waiting for God to breath into us the Holy Spirit and raise us up from the grave—out of the depths.

“Lazarus, come out!” (Jn. 11:43).

“I am going to open your graves, and bring you up form your graves, O my people” (Eze. 37:13).

Tags: theology