Weekly Meditation - 27th April 2017
This week’s lectionary readings are all about finding a solution, making the impossible possible.
Could dry bones ever live again? That is the question with which God challenged Ezekiel when he was shown a vision of a valley-full of bones (Ezekiel 37:1-3). God revealed to Ezekiel that by the power of his Spirit, he could make the bones come together, 'bone to bone' (37:7), cover them again with flesh (37:8) and finally put breath in them so that they stood as a 'vast army' (37:10). Ezekiel lived at a time when Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, had become unfaithful and was exiled to Babylon. Ezekiel wrote his prophecy while he was 'among the exiles by the Kebar River' (see 1:1). This passage is not about the resurrection, despite its 'coming to life' imagery. It is a prophecy concerning 'the whole house of Israel'. They were in despair, and had lost hope – 'our bones are dried and our hope is gone; we are cut off' (37:11). Just as there could be no possibility of future life for a heap of dried bones, so the hope of Israel being released from captivity and restored to the Lord’s favour appeared unattainable. Through Ezekiel, God promised, however, that just like opening a grave, he would release his people and bring them back to their land (37:12-14).
'If you kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?' This was the cry of the psalmist (Psalm 130:3). Godly men and women are always aware of the ways in which they fall short, and this writer was no exception. He was inspired, however, to answer his ownquestion; 'with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared' (130:4). He writes of the Lord’s 'unfailing love' and “full redemption” (130:7), and announces that God “himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (130:8). This psalm could have been written with the exiles in mind, and the writer might be referring to the way in which God forgave and restored them. However, the phrases 'full redemption' and 'from all their sins' are a foreshadowing of the greater redemption brought about by Jesus Christ. Either way, the psalm is a demonstration of a solution for an intractable problem – that of human sin.
Can sinful people ever be declared righteous? 'The sinful mind is death...hostile to God...it does not submit to God’s laws...it cannot please God...our bodies are dead because of sin' (Romans 8:6-10). However, 'the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace...our spirits are alive because of righteousness' (8:6-10). This 'righteousness' is not our own, however, but a gift from God. Humans could never be good enough for God by their own efforts. No amount of works or rule-keeping would achieve it. But Paul wrote this letter to show that what humans could never accomplish, God has made possible through Jesus – righteousness by faith. The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will live in those who receive him and ultimately 'give life to our mortal bodies' in the resurrection (8:11).
Could a dead man, laid in his tomb for four days, come to life? (John 11:38-39). For Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, the situation looked impossible. Their brother had been taken ill and had died four days before Jesus returned to their village. His body was wrapped in grave-cloths and laid in a cave with a stone across the entrance. Mary and Martha were familiar with Jesus’ teachings, and Martha was confident that her brother would rise again, 'in the resurrection, at the last day' (11: 24). But even though Martha believed Jesus when he declared to her that he was 'the resurrection and the life' (11:25-26), and although she knew him to be the Christ (11:27) she was still appalled when Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away from the entrance to the tomb – her brother was dead and rotting (11:39). However, Lazarus heard Jesus’ call and came out from his tomb, still wrapped with cloths (11:43-44). This was not resurrection; Jesus had not yet overcome death by his own rising from death, and thus Lazarus was not raised to eternal life. It was, though, a wonderful demonstration of Jesus’ power over death, proof that he is 'the resurrection and the life' It was an impossible event made possible, and a foreshadowing of the future resurrection of all. As we progress towards Easter, we must focus our minds on the central teaching of our faith, that Christ has overcome sin and death to provide us with an eternal future.