What does the resurrection have to do with Lent? it’s jumping out at us with the story of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel and in the raising of Lazarus. In Lent, resurrection is about suffering and hope.
Resurrection begins with suffering — it begins with those very many, very dry bones lying in the valley. The valley was full of them. Resurrection begins with a beloved friend who becomes unexpectedly ill and dies while we are away so that we cannot be near his side for his final breaths. It begins with a teenager addicted to meth who can’t seem to shake the pull for another hit. It begins with a Savior who teaches and heals but is still misunderstood so that he is tortured and crucified for his trouble. Resurrection reaches down to the depths of our suffering and sits with us there.
Resurrection invites hope. Ezekiel is shown the wasteland so that he might comprehend the sorrow buried there, and then is offered the chance to address the bony devastation with a powerful, prophetic word. Could that word revive God’s people? Family and friends of Lazarus gather to weep over a life ended too soon, and hear that Jesus is on his way. He couldn’t still do something to help, could he? The drug-addicted teen, now in college, finally admits to a friend her inability to control herself and agrees to enter rehab. Is this the beginning of her road to recovery? Disciples huddle in hidden chambers and remember together what Jesus said about rising again. What did he mean? Resurrection troubles our sense of certainty about what comes next. It plants a seed of hope that cannot help but grow toward the light.
Resurrection also tells us about God. It tells us that God does not give up on us when we fail, when we let God and others down. It tells us that there is much that we don’t understand about how the world works, that there is mystery here among us with real power. It tells us that Love is no flimsy Hollywood concoction, but rather a tough-as-nails companion on life’s stony roads. And God tells us about resurrection. “I am the resurrection and the life,” declared Jesus. What do we do with resurrection during Lent? We pay attention to suffering, and we search for hope.
As some of us heard from Father Benedict at last Sunday’s forum, Lent is not a time to cause ourselves suffering — there is enough already in the world! Instead, Lent is a time to pay more attention to suffering that already exists — perhaps suffering we have yet to acknowledge in our own lives. What in our own life causes us great pain? And surely Lent challenges us also to notice anew the suffering around us. What do we see in our family, in our community, in our country and across the globe that cuts us to the core?
Church can help cultivate a fresh sensitivity to the pain of others: Holy Week is fast approaching — Our Lord’s suffering is soon upon us — and our full participation in worship will help us cultivate new eyes to see the very many dry bones that surround us. I invite you to clear your schedule as best you can for the evening of Maundy Thursday, all day on Good Friday, and all day on Holy Saturday. Then join us at the Great Vigil of Easter that Saturday night. These three days pack the whole Christian story into a strikingly moving drama.
Now God doesn’t want us to be only suffering spotters — God calls us to search out the tiny seeds of hope buried deep within the earth of that dried-bone valley and deep within the tomb in that cave. And here is why there is reason to hope: God is never the cause of suffering. And here is another reason: God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is the resurrection, Jesus is the life. Which means that our search for hope in life’s saddest, darkest places is really our search for Jesus among us.
That college student who ended up in rehab? She didn’t have an easy go of it — for the next twelve years she struggled to maintain her sobriety, falling and getting up again, praying even and sometimes often, winding her way into and out of church. Addiction was no easy burden to bear. When she ended up in jail overnight on an overdose, she prayed like she hadn’t before. And she noticed Jesus beside her like she hadn’t before. She discovered a new reason to hope that with God’s help, and with the help of a 12-step group, she could indeed remain sober. She has, and last year a nearby church baptized her at the Easter Vigil.
There is no easier road ahead for her; baptism is no magic bullet; but she has new eyes now to see the world around her anew — a world filled with great pain, and underneath, a thousand seeds struggling to the light.
The Rev. Colin Mathewson