I Will Not Die, But Live
“I Will Not Die, But Live”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 2, 2017
Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130
The sadness of death seems to prevail in the hearts of many in our society today. Last Friday, I was at Heritage Park in Taguig for the burial of the brother of Father Julian, and as I was standing there, I had the feeling that I didn’t belong there. It’s amazing that we’ve glorified death and made it a monument. I’m not attacking Heritage Park but there are mausoleums costing hundreds of thousands built there to honor the dead. And I was thinking of the Scriptures and how that I don’t remember a single time that Jesus went to a burial. When someone died, He raised the dead. Jesus didn’t honor death because death is of the enemy. Death came upon man because he sinned against God. Yet we still honor death; we glorify it and we’ve accepted it as part of our existence. Jesus didn’t accept it. He never went to a funeral. In His time, the tradition was that when someone died, he/she was wrapped in cloth and put in the ground within 24 hours of dying. It’s amazing how we magnify death with its sorrow and grieving, rather than recognize that death is a consequence of sin. Jesus said, “Even if you die, you live”. Death is just part of the journey we’re on. It’s not an end, and therefore, not something that should be magnified. Several years ago, we changed the funeral ceremony to a resurrection mass. We tell the people that the one they are grieving for isn’t in the coffin because he/she has been resurrected. We’ve even commercialized death, making money out of it. Someone told me that a plot in Heritage Park costs P600 thousand!
We look at today’s lessons in the Old Testament and the Gospel. God takes Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones. He’s speaking to us here of something that is yet to come. In the reading, we are told that the dry bones are temporary. This was before Christ. God brought Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones in the wilderness. The wilderness symbolizes the place of the devil. God takes Ezekiel to the middle of the valley of dry bones, and the bones were very dry. This means that they’ve been there for a very long time and indicates that death had taken over and was ruling over the valley. God asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” They looked beyond life; without hope. God told Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord’”. Can bones hear that God would ask Ezekiel to talk and prophesy to them? We are being told here about the power of the voice; why God gave us a voice. Now I know that I’m not crazy talking to the trees and plants in the farm. Maybe this is why they are productive – because I command them to be.
This is something challenging to me as I read Ezekiel: if God wanted the bones to live, why didn’t He talk to them Himself? We go back to Genesis. When God created man, He gave man authority over the earth. He is a God of honor and respect and He gave man the authority over the earth. When God asked Ezekiel to talk and prophesy to the dry bones, He was really telling Ezekiel that he has the authority to do it. So Ezekiel prophesied to the bones and as he did, “there was a noise, a rattling….” The bones were scattered all over the valley and when Ezekiel spoke to them, they moved, seeking their pairs – “the bones came together, bone to bone”. This reminds us of creation in Genesis, when Adam saw the woman and he said, “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. There was identity in the bones. They knew where they belonged. Sinews grew on the bones, flesh grew and skin covered them, but there was no life, no breath in them. So God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath and say to the breath, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life’”. At creation, man had life when God breathed into him. God is reversing the process here – bringing the dead back to life. Death doesn’t belong to God. It isn’t to be honored. Life is what God gave us, and in Lent, He prepares us to receive this new life that He gave us through Christ. Notice that God asked Ezekiel to be the one to speak to the dead. God wanted Ezekiel to know that he had the authority to do so and He wanted Ezekiel to use that authority. Most of the time, we don’t use our God-given authority. We succumb to the problems because we forget or we don’t believe that we have the authority to overcome them. Most of us have acquired insurance policies and funeral plans, just in case. Remember that you get what you plan for. God is challenging us in this season of Lent not to look to death. He is telling us that He is the God of life and He has destroyed the power of death over us. Can you imagine if God speaks to the dead in the cemetery and all the mausoleums collapse while the dead come back to life?
The Psalms were written before the crucifixion. Psalm 118:17 should be our declaration: “I shall not die, but live, and tell of the works of the Lord.” Even if life gives us challenges and we are attacked from all sides, we will conquer and overcome and give glory to God because He is the Lord of life, not the Lord of death. Because there will be no dead. He will bring life to all. “The Lord has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death.” This is what Lent is preparing us for. Set aside your old ideas; they shouldn’t be there. “I shall live and not die!” God has conquered death for us. Can you imagine what would happen if we had this attitude – “I shall not die; I shall live! The enemy can’t attack me because I’m speaking against him.” This is what Ezekiel was doing to the dry bones. Death seemingly was in control but one man spoke and the whole army of Israel was restored, and they were given their own land. This is the power of God. They may be small in number, but Israel is an exceedingly great army. This speaks to us of hope; of life. Yes, Christ died, but it was only for a while so He could destroy hell and disarm the forces of evil. We were given life and authority, and the reason why we get into trouble is we don’t use that authority. When we are attacked, we should say instead, “Get out of here! I’m a child of God. I belong to Him. He bought me with a price and you have to right over me!” We have to renew our minds to the truth, instead of allowing ourselves to be indoctrinated by the world that prepares us for death and not life.
In the Gospel, Lazarus, Martha and Mary were very good friends of Jesus; He loved them. Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick, but He didn’t go to him right away, saying to His disciples, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it”. After this, He told His disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep and He must go to him that He may awaken him. Nobody knew what He was talking about and they were saying if Lazarus had fallen asleep, he will recover. When Jesus arrived, Martha and then later, Mary said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, My brother would not have died”. Some in the crowd were also saying, “Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind, have kept this man also from dying?” Yes, Jesus had healed many, turned water into wine and performed many other great miracles, but now He was giving a strong proclamation. He asked them to open the tomb of Lazarus, then He prayed to the Father: “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me….that they may believe that You sent Me.” He already talked to the Father about this. He knew what was going to happen. Lazarus didn’t come out of the tomb just because Jesus was there. He only came out when Jesus spoke with authority, “Lazarus, come forth.” Jesus didn’t submit to the situation and circumstances but took authority over death. Lazarus was bound hand and foot with wrappings and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus instructed those who were there to unbind him. In life, this is our task – to release the sick, the wounded, the despondent and the hopeless from the claws of the enemy, because all these curses are from the enemy. We have authority over all. The enemy can deceive us if we allow him, but we don’t have to submit to him. If we will only stand in the authority given to us by God, we will overcome everything that comes our way. These challenges and tests are there so we can learn and be strong. Don’t give in to the test. “I will not die but live!” The Government can do what it wants, but as the Church, we need to speak the truth of God.
Scriptures tell us that we should worship God in spirit and truth. The truth is God gave us new life. He walked in authority over sin and death to show us who we are. We don’t have to submit to the tests; they are only temporary. Don’t allow them to take away your joy. There are instances in Scriptures where Jesus came into the scene and the enemy left. If we could only use that same authority…. but it takes commitment, diligence and a strong desire. Only then will the enemy avoid us. We declare: “I know what God has done for me and I will thank Him for it by living it, using the authority He gave me”. This has to come out of the heart, without fear. “I will not be anxious. I know I’m on this journey and it may look dark now, but the light will come. So don’t give up!” This requires diligence, commitment and steadfastness. Remember the story about the unrighteous judge.
When people die, Scriptures say they only sleep. They are close to us, our cloud of witnesses. These dry bones will come to life again. Holy Week and Easter week have been set by Christ. On the cross, Jesus spoke: “Father, forgive them….It is finished.” He has finished the work, sealed with the power and authority of God. We have new life and we have to live this new life. Christ paid a high price for it. I believe that when we deny what God has done, we commit treason. We have to believe! If you believe, you will see the glory of God. This is why we have to speak God’s Word. It is the only truth. Read Ephesians 1 – holiness, righteousness, blamelessness and grace – they have all been given to us. God has equipped us to be everything that He wants us to be, but we must believe. God is giving back to us all that the enemy has stolen, reversing what the enemy has done to us. The enemy brought death; Christ restores us to life. The tests that we face are opportunities for us to use the authority God has given us and realize God’s commitment to us. “I will not die but live, and bring glory to God!” The enemy has no authority to destroy us. We should be committed to God with such intensity that when these tests come, we refuse to give in to them. Let’s do things the way God intends us to. Don’t make excuses. When bad things happen, we take authority and refuse to accept them. We are for life. This is God’s gift to us and He gives us the grace to fulfill this life.