09 April 2011

How Dead Is Dead?

At a Word and Communion service at the jail this week, we prayed with the readings for Sunday: Ezekiel's adamant pronouncement that God would raise the People from their graves and put them in God's own land and the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.

The Ezekiel reading, a shortened version of what we'll hear at the Easter Vigil, left out the vision of a valley littered with dry bones. It demanded context, so I talked about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, how the city had seen the wealthy and the skilled taken into exile and the poor and crippled left behind to wander and fend for themselves. The city was dead, for all that it might have mattered.

And then there was Lazarus, a good friend who was sick, no, dying, no--he's dead. How dead is he? At least four days in the tomb. No embalming fluid. He's decaying. He stinks. We get the good religious answer from the dead man's sister: "I know he will be raised on the last day." Not much of a comfort (those religious answers never are much comfort in the crisis) but Jesus doesn't stop there. Loud crying sobs from Jesus and finally a shout, "Lazarus! Come out!"

We had a long talk about whether or not Lazarus was really dead, what did John intend by putting this story in this place in the gospel. And then someone said, "I guess we're like those dry bones, all of us here at jail." The mood shifted, became more somber. What has died within us? What has died around us? How are we so dead that there are only bones left?

It's only now, three days later, that I find myself thinking of the movie, "The Killing Fields" that chronicled the deaths in Cambodia. And of the devastation in New Orleans with so many of the poor were left abandoned. Of the display cases full of wire-rimmed glasses at Auschwitz. Of Haitians still living in tents more than a year after a massive earthquake. Of the remains of Sendai tumbling in the Pacific waters. Of Christchurch bulldozing its way to a new existence.

The list of devastation runs long, full of the names of towns flattened by war and disease and human destruction. When I look at all of that, can I believe the words of a prophet like Ezekiel? Do I believe the cry that comes from the depths of the heart of God, the anguished sob that yearns to give life?


Jane R said...

Thank you, Shannon. Beautiful, profound writing as always. This meditation and these questions really speak to me right now.

claire said...

Godde bless you and the men you shepherd, Shannon.