Whenever the passage from Ezekiel, about the dry bones is read, I have an overwhelming desire to sing the spiritual; “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.” That temptation aside, Today’s readings on first hearing do seem rather fanciful; the bones in the dry valley become re-animated; Paul tells us that you are not really dead if you live in the Spirit and Lazarus walks out of the tomb four days after his death.
These readings are not, however, really that fanciful, in fact if anything they are hopeful and full of examples of God’s faithful promises to his people.
Today our service is built around the Psalms of Ascent; 15 psalms from 120-135 that were sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the three great festivals; Passover (one that we are familiar with), Shavuot a festival commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses and Sukkot a commeration of the Jews 40 years in the wilderness, living in tents.
Half of these psalms are cheerful and all of them are hopeful.
At this stage in Lent we enter into the period known as ‘Passiontide’ with today, the fifth Sunday of Lent being entitled ‘ Passion Sunday’. The daily Bible readings from here on in until Good Friday now focus on Jesus’ passion and death, with glimpses of resurrection. The next two weeks are a preparation for the day of resurrection. The readings are not dismal nor are they gloomy and they are far from dead. The readings like today’s psalms are full of hope and they can be used as an accompaniment for us as we journey to Easter Day.
The dry bones lived again when they received the living Word of God. Those of us, who welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, know that our spirits can live on after our physical demise in that Holy Spirit and that we can all live new life when Jesus calls us, just as he called Lazarus.
All too often in the Lenten journey, I think we can become too focused on death. We Christians as people of the resurrection need to try and keep the hope of the resurrection before us in all, we do. We are called to live our lives full of resurrection hope.
None of us can categorically say that death is the ultimate end just because we cannot prove it does not mean it is not true and if we can live in hope of new life beyond our physical death, we can hope that death is not the end. This is why these Psalms of Ascent that we are using today are important for they teach us not to focus on our death but to live each day on earth in light of the hope that God offers us in his Word and in the Word made flesh – Jesus. We need to look beyond what we know and hope for the future, trusting in God’s promises.
Jesus would have used the Psalms of Ascent as he journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate his last Passover Festival. As we use them today we join in his spiritual journey and we do so hopefully -hoping for the new life promised by Jesus’ resurrection.
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