Jesus wept – and then Jesus acted. “Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’” We, reading from this side of Easter, inevitably think of the women on their way to Jesus’ tomb, wondering who will roll away that stone. Stones are there to keep death in and life out. And here comes God to overturn all of that order… just as God had said long ago he would.
We hear a story of the dead revived in our reading from the Hebrew Bible this Sunday – but this is only a vision, in which dry bones, representing Israel’s defeat and dead hopes, are given sinews and flesh, and have the life, the breath of God, blown back into them. Included in Ezekiel’s strange vision, though, was a prophetic promise: "'And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,’ says the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:12-14)
Scripture suggests that death is something God tolerates until he can do away with it – which is what we claim God did in Christ on Good Friday, and proved Easter Sunday. That is central to our belief as those who bear the name of Christ. So one of our greatest faith challenges is to live this belief, that death has been neutralized, while in this life we encounter it as still so very real and so very destructive. These stories we read and learn and tell are counter-narratives to the one we live out in this physical life. We must develop our spiritual selves as well as our physical selves – to see Life beyond death, and to see it so fully and clearly it carries us through “the valley of the shadow of death” when we find ourselves there.
What is your relationship with death? Do you fear it? Dread it? See it as natural, as a release, or an enemy? Does your view change when you’re contemplating someone else's death?
What is your relationship with life – the kind of life that transcends death? Does it feel real?
Where is God for you in the whole subject of death?
In nine days, the Church will enter its annual deep, week-long contemplation of death and life, so this could be a good time to entertain these questions and take them into prayer. If it feels to you like death still has the upper hand, still wins – that’s something to talk with God about, to ask questions and see where answers might emerge. We can say, “Lord, I don’t understand death, why it’s still part of life when you’ve vanquished it – but I do understand life.”
Our promise is that God’s life is already in us. As we learn to dwell in that, it will carry us into the life beyond this one. We can ask daily to be filled with that Life that truly prevails over death – and gradually that Life is what we become.