Fifth Sunday

Is peace possible? Can dry bones come back to life?

by Kyle Cristofalo

Ezekiel 37:1-14 🌿 Psalm 130 🌿 Romans 8:6-11 🌿 John 11:1-45

During election season, if you turn on your TV or flip through your mail, you will often be greeted through a commercial or a campaign mailer with the message “Washington is broken.” Capitol Hill, specifically Congress, is not often viewed as a place where good things happen. After living in DC for almost a decade, I admit to being annoyed by the often-flippant caricature of a city that is more vibrant than outside politicians would lead us to believe. I cannot dispute that Congress is a challenge to navigate, especially for those of us seeking an end to the occupation and a future in Israel/Palestine where all people can flourish. If I’m being honest, I sometimes wonder if there is any point in trying to move Congress. Even the positive steps seem too little, too late.

The lectionary readings for today, especially from Ezekiel and the Gospel of John, remind us that even in the most unlikely of places and unlikely of times, God’s breath is capable of reviving life. Ezekiel wrote to his community in the midst of an exile that many likely feared was permanent. The bones had long ago dried, as did any hope of returning home. As far as the eye could see, the valley was full of nothing but desolation. Dry bones can’t come back to life, right?

Martha cries out to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11.21). Her sister Mary, also in grief, uttered the same words when she sees Jesus. Jesus was too late for Lazarus. People can’t come back from the dead, right?

During Lent, we might be tempted to cry out like Mary and Martha. Jesus was too late. Lazarus had already died. During Lent, we might feel that valley of dry bones will never be anything else. Peace is not possible. The conflict in Israel/Palestine will endure forever. Our voices will not make any difference. Maybe Washington is broken. The year 2023 surely has not brought us any closer to the prospect of peace in Israel/Palestine. The new Israeli government promises further annexation of Palestinian land. Each day brings news of another Palestinian dying. Congress and policymakers in Washington remain largely silent. “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel wondered. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Mary and Martha cry out.

We are not yet done with our Lenten journey. We may still question like Ezekiel and respond in grief like Mary and Martha. But these stories remind us of the promise on the other side of Lenten journey: God is with us even—and maybe especially—when we are in our deepest valleys of desolation and grief. Elijah prophesied to the long dried-up bones, and slowly, they came back together. At first, there was only flesh, but once God’s breath was upon the dry bones, they were made living again.

Jesus took the grieving sisters with him, opened up the tomb, and with his breath, brought Lazarus back to life. The God who brought Lazarus back to life and transformed a valley of dry bones to one of human flourishment is with us now. May we feel empowered to continue in our commitment to work toward peace in the land called Holy, even when it appears that the valley is dry and the time for justice has passed.

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