Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Lent 5: Resurrection and Renewal - Alive Again

9 March 2008
Ezekiel 37.1-14; Romans 8.6-11; John 11:1-45; Psalm 130 From the depths Jesus said...I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
John 10:10

This morning's readings and collect are all about the Spirit of God infusing our bodies with life. (So is the third reading set for today, the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead). The message is inescapable - and all the more heart-stopping for its very simplicity - as Christ said to Lazarus's sister: I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. John 11:25

St Paul sums it up in his letter to the Romans:Romans 8:2 The Spirit is Life;
and the valley of dry bones is a vivid metaphor which explores this idea. Some commentators consider this passage from Ezekiel to be a simple reference to the plight of Israel at the time - but if you believe that, you will believe anything.

The valley in the desert is the same desert that we have been in with Christ during the forty days and forty nights of Lent, an image of spiritual exile in which the only sound that can be heard is a loud dry wind blowing, the Sirocco. I think this story appeals so strongly to us because life has often set us down in a valley of dry bones. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place so barren and so difficult that we're not sure if we will ever make our way out of it. The Revd Esther Hargis2001

In these unpropitious surroundings, Ezekiel is asked, Son of man, can these bones live? Now, what would you have answered? Luckily for Ezekiel, by this time he has had several visions and knows the right reply: Oh Lord, you know. God then tells him to preach to the bones, which indeed come together as bodies of flesh and blood. But they are lifeless. Ezekiel now continues to preach, this time to the bodies, and they become suffused with the Breath of God.

Throughout the New Testament, there are constant allusions to our own human resurrections. Mark tells of a boy who fell down like a corpse: Jesus lifted him up and he 'arose'. The son of a widow at Nain was being carried out for burial when Jesus stopped the funeral procession. 'Arise', he said to the apparently lifeless body and he came alive again. Luke 7:11-17

There is a power in the phrase I will arise recognised by Yeats, who did not say I might go over to Innisfree this afternoon, but I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree. We join in his longing to escape urban captivity and breathe free.1

Time and again we are given the opportunity for newness of life. It would be a tragic waste if we put these mini-resurrections off to beyond the grave. The first and most basic is the daily miracle of waking up in the morning, which we recognised in our first hymn. In his poem 'Shadows', D H Lawrence describes this nightly renewal, while comparing it to the new blossoms of me God promises as the fruit of dark nights of the soul:

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
In sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new created...
And if in the changing phases of man’s life
I fall in sickness and in misery
my wrists seem broken and my heart seems dead
and strength is gone, and my life
is only the leavings of a life:
and still among it all, snatches of lovely oblivion, and snatches of renewal
odd wintry flowers upon the withered stems, yet new strange flowers
such as my life has not brought forth before, new blossoms of me-
then I must know that still
I am in the hands of the unknown God,
he is breaking me down to his own oblivion
to send me forth on a new morning a new man.

The second resurrection is spring:
For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground, yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. Job 14:7

The next poem, 'Love is Come Again', explicitly links this to our own calling back to life, as well as the resurrection of Christ at Easter.

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been;
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
In the grave they laid him, Love whom men had slain,
Thinking that never he would wake again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain,
Quick from the dead, my risen Lord is seen:
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Thy touch may call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been.

J M C Crum

But it is not an automatic process, it needs some effort on our behalf. The older ones among the congregation may recognise themselves in the rueful 'Latter Day Psalm' by Cliff Ashby:

My heart, Lord, is unyielding.
My joints are stiff,
The knuckles of my knees refuse to bend.
The knife is at my neck.
My back breaks.
I will say my matutinal prayers
From a crippled position.
Perhaps the Lord will hear?

Apart from the physical problems of old age, there are also the sweet sins that come in fair disguise:

O come, dear Lord, unbind: like Lazarus, I
lie wrapped in stifling grave-clothes of self-will.
Come give me life that I to death may die...
Come, open sin's sarcophagus. I'm wound
in selfishness, self-satisfaction, pride,
fear of change, demands of love, greed,
self-hate, sweet sins that come in fair disguise.
Help me accept this death and open wide
the tight-closed tomb. If pain comes as we're freed,
Your daylight must have hurt first Lazarus's eyes.

'Second Lazarus' by Madeleine L'Engle

The third 'mini-resurrection' is offered by the Church in its liturgy. At our baptisms, we were reborn in Christ; after confession we receive absolution and the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again; at communion we pray: grant that we may serve you in newness of life and renew us by your Spirit; and finally, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed.

Lord, reveal in us your glory, stir in us your power, renew in us your kingdom, develop in us your faith, show in us your way, open in us your love, strengthen in us your hope, work in us your miracles, revive in us your resurrection and abide in us yourself. Amen.
Durham Daily Prayer © 2002 Bruce Carlin & Tom Jamieson

1 The idea for this talk was taken from a chapter of this title in David Adam's book: 'Living in Two Kingdoms'. My grateful thanks to Canon Adam for his permission to quote from this chapter in the above talk, as well as to draw on it more generally for inspiration.

Acknowledgement pending for Cliff Ashby

Latest Blog Posts

O Rex Gentium: the Sixth Advent Antiphon – 22 December

Latin: O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:veni, et salva hominem,quem de limo formasti. English: O King of the Gentiles and their desired One, the Cornerstone...

Read Post
No Comments | Reply
Anglicanism and Technology: “For things to remain the same, everything must change” – Iain Little

I fear for Anglicanism, or at least the liberal, discerning version that we practice in our rainy corner of Northern Europe. Above all I fear for its relevance. More Britons play chess each week than go...

Read Post
2 Comments | Reply
‘That Was The Church That Was’: Review by Richard Ashby

For those not old enough to remember, ‘That Was the Week That Was’ was a satirical television programme of the 1960s, starring David Frost, Millicent Martin, Bernard Levin and Willie Rushton...

Read Post
5 Comments | Reply

Connect with me on Google+

We rely on donations to keep this website running.