Whenever I visit one of the communities in my diocese, I try to take time to visit the cemetery. They are generally next to the church or within easy walking distance. I stop to say a prayer and visit some of the newer crosses of people I have known and buried. I also like to walk among the cribs, the picket fence enclosures that families construct around the graves of their loved ones. There I take in some of the history of the ancestors who are buried there, some still remembered, even revered and others forgotten to the pages of history. Cemeteries, burial grounds, graveyards… they are filled with memories, but they are lacking in life.
There is sadness in dying, but death is not just found in the graveyard. The real tragedy is unearthed in those whose spirit dies long before their bodies do. Maybe you can think of who I mean? You might think first of the lost ones who walk the streets looking for something to dull their pain. These are the ones among us who are just passing time, who have little joy and who seem to have lost hope. But this kind of deadness of spirit is not always so obvious. It sometimes settles into each of us. When it does, we do our best to put on a brave face and go about our business, hoping no one will notice the sadness that we feel inside, or maybe we don’t feel much at all.
This kind of deadness of spirit can also infect a whole community. We notice the symptoms when conversations turn toward tearing down others. When we stop caring for one another, and its everyone for themselves and when carrying on the traditions and celebrations that used to bring joy and life to the community becomes just another burden.
The prophet Ezekiel speaks to us today in our first reading. He has had a vision from the Lord of bones parched dry by the heat of the desert wind. The Lord asks the prophet, “Do you think I can bring life back to these bones?” And then he tells Ezekiel, “speak to them, tell them that the Lord will breathe life back into them. That he will reknit them together again with sinew and tendons and that he will put new flesh on them.” He then says through his prophet,” I will open your graves and raise my people out of them, I will breathe my spirit into them, and they will have life again.”
God has given us life. God has put his spirit within us so that we can be alive in him and if that spirit has become parched, dried out, God can breathe new life into us again.
The Gospel story of Lazarus reminds us that God has the power to do this for us. Lazarus was in the tomb for four days, long enough that he was already beginning to smell. But the word of Jesus brought Lazarus back and returned him to the land of the living. The spirit of life which raised Lazarus from the tomb is the same spirit that is already in us. Easter is the time when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but Lent is when we pray for the gift of new life for ourselves. for new life in our spirit, trusting that the Lord will raise us up. Turn to him and ask for that gift of new life.
The beauty in the miracle of the raising of Lazarus is that it involves the whole community. It was Jesus who brought Lazarus out of the tomb but then he turns to the people and says, “You unbind him”. Part of finding new life in our self, is in looking beyond ourselves, to seek out and help unbind others and set them free. We need to share the life that is growing in us, so that it keeps growing.
May the Spirit of God fill us today, may it enliven our communities and bring joy to those who are despairing. May the breath of God’s love bring you peace and fullness of life.