Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart

 Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 7th, 2019 


My name echoes
down Death's Corridor,
resounds like a summons
across lost time,
penetrates my stopped ears
until I can resist no more
but must arise, reluctantly.
My sealed eyes
strain to see
but darkness clings
like the stench of decay.
I taste dust,
smell aloes, myrrh,
want to scream out
that I'm buried
and alive
but my face is linen-wrapped,
my hands and feet, tied.


Stiff as a corpse,
I strain to sit, then stand,
shaking off maggots
as I sway
this way and that,
recognizing the voice
I did not think to hear again
this side of the grave.


Again, the cry
rousing me from stupor,
unthawing my life's blood
quickening the beat of my heart.
The rock rolls
and I stumble
towards warm wind,
rejuvenating spring...

Frost & Fire
Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, 1985

Greetings, SBT Readers:

My scripture reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent focuses on life in the Spirit, but I have to confess that I'm experiencing a definite mismatch between what I wrote yesterday and where I ended up today. At one moment I was feeling inspired and, at the next, I lay sprawled in the Valley of Dry Bones , oblivious to Ezekiel's words of prophecy. The precipitating cause? Frustration! When my computer crashed yesterday afternoon, I was confident I could deal with the problem. The blue screen, however, had no intention of cooperating and I soon found myself staring at the error message. Because my repertoire of computer "fixes" proved inadequate, I turned to the internet via the old laptop on which I am presently writing. There were multiple suggestions but none worked, so I connected with one of Microsoft's "virtual assistants." Sadly, this "assistant" was unable to understand my frantic comments; as a result, I ended up in a chat room with a live person who, less skilled than the virtual assistant, strung me along until 3:00 a.m. when we had both had "enough"! The promised instructions never turned up in my email "inbox," so my next step was to take out a $149.00 tech support contract with Microsoft. This I cancelled when the supposedly skilled technician put me on hold while he read his instruction manual. Right now, the computer-- a gargantuan, custom-made machine-- is in the back of my car, waiting for an early morning ride to Micro Center.

From a human perspective, a crashed computer is a "big deal" but seen in the grander scheme of things, it is just a blip on the screen of life, nothing of real consequence. True, I am presently unable to deliver this coming week's Sunday Video Chat or to put together the writing coaching proposal I promised a client last week; nor have I been able to print out the handouts needed for tomorrow's classes. Even so, a crashed computer has no business affecting my mental outlook or spiritual well-being. A machine, after all, is just a machine and if I allow myself to become frustrated, then I am responsible for this and cannot blame an inanimate object!

Sadly, it doesn't take much to move us from joy to anxiety, from calm to confusion, from trust to disbelief, from gratitude to irritation. Sometimes it is the news that "gets to me," especially when tragedies, atrocities and miscarriages of justice are involved; sometimes, it's my concern over the growing intolerance in this country towards migrants and minorities that shakes my calm; and, sometimes, it's my awareness of the deadly impact of global warming on all life forms. If my "higher self" were to preach to my "dry bones" self, the message would be clear: "What sense does it make to allow anything or anyone to rob you of peace of heart when you have received God's gift of life-giving waters?"

I hear the words and I believe them -- but there is still that nagging feeling of annoyance every time I look at the empty place on my desk where my computer once stood!

Lenten Blessings!


PS Sunday Video Chat is presently incapacitated!


Thus says the Lord GOD: 
"O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, 
and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, 
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it," says the LORD.
EZ 37:12-14 (Cycle A)

The Woman Caught in Adultery or the Raising of Lazarus?
The readings for Cycle C and Cycle A are so rich this Sunday that it was difficult deciding on a scriptural focus. In the end, Ezekiel won out as the text offers a lens through which to view the Gospels from both cycles; it also captures the purpose of Lent and the meaning of Paschal Mystery.

EZ 37:12-14

The first reading from Cycle A forms part of Ezekiel's Vision of the Dry Bones . Led by the Spirit of God into the center of a plain, the prophet walks in every direction, observing vast quantities of dry bones. At God's command, he prophecies over the bones and they rattle together: "I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them, and the skin cover them, but there was no spirit in them" (37:8). Then, prophesying to the Spirit, Ezekiel sees the bones spring to life and stand upright like a vast army. It is at this point that our text begins with God's amazing promise: "O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them..." (3 7:12)

Though the bones refer to the "whole house of Israel," the symbolism can apply to all those who lead sterile lives -- that is, lives devoid of Spirit. When we neglect the world of Spirit or deliberately walk away from it, then we begin to live as material beings rather than as spiritual beings. Instead of growing in wisdom and grace, instead of finding the living waters within, we dry up, becoming caricatures of what we're meant to be. Love gives way to hatred, altruism to selfishness, generosity to greed, kindness to cruelty, compassion to intolerance, gratitude to a sense of entitlement, forgiveness to revenge, faith to fear, hope to despair, peace-making to violence, prayer to idolatry.... The image of God begins to fade or disappears altogether. In effect, we are barely human. The good news, of course, is that "With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption" (Ps 130 v. 7). God's promise to open our graves is not just a promise of resurrection once we die, but a promise to return us to the ground of our being (symbolized by the land of Israel) in this lifetime. All that is necessary is that we hear the Word of God.

Jn 8:1-11 (Cycle C)

Even now, says the Lord,
return to me with your whole heart;
for I am gracious and merciful.
Joel 2:12-13

We know little about the woman at the center of this gospel narrative except that she was caught in the act of adultery (though there is no reference to her partner) and that without Jesus' intervention, she would have been stoned to death. There is no physical description of this woman, nor do we ever learn her name; her only words in response to Jesus' question, "Has no one condemned you?" are "No one, Sir." The gospel leaves us to fill the gaps ourselves. Dragged before Jesus, disheveled, scantily clad, this woman must have been terrified. With all eyes upon her, she felt the religious authorities' scorn and their fury. She knew that at any moment, they could stoop down, pick up some jagged rocks and stone her to death.

What brought her to that moment? Why would a woman of that era risk everything for the sake of sexual intimacy? Was she in love with the man who had so obviously deserted her? Was she, in fact, committing adultery when she was caught or had he possibly raped her? How did she feel when Jesus wrote in the dust or when the crowd began to disperse? Did she ever thank Jesus for saving her life? One thing is clear: Jesus' words to her indicate that after their encounter, she now had the possibility of a new beginning. God opened her grave and brought her back to the land of the living. Instead of being judged, she found kindness and mercy, a restoration to wholeness.

Jn 11:1-45 (Cycle A)

"I am the resurrection and the life," says the Lord;
"whoever believe in me, even if they die, will never die."
Jn 11:25a-26

While the woman caught in adultery was entombed in poor choices --or in being a victim, Lazarus was literally "dead," buried not in sin but in a sealed tomb. Both were "dry bones" in need of restoration -- she, to a life of grace and he, to the land of the living. By raising the woman from the dust, Jesus offered her a new life; by raising Lazarus, he demonstrated his power over death and freed his friend from the tomb. His words towards the end of this narrative, " Untie him and let him go" (Jn 11:44) refer to the burial cloths still tightly wrapped around the living Lazarus' body; similarly, Jesus "untied" the woman caught in adultery from the bindings of sin. Both were free to live, to love and to enjoy life to the fullest.

Spiritual Implications

Neither dry bones nor dead bones give glory to God. God, as revealed throughout scripture, is a God of the living who calls us to life in this world and in the next. To live as though "dead" in this world is perhaps the ultimate insult we can give God; the more alive we are, the more Spirit-filled and the more we live with passionate intensity, the greater God's delight. Boredom, indifference, apathy and lack of commitment are therefore contrary to God's dream for humanity. The One who opens graves, animates dry bones and breathes Spirit into the deadest of the dead calls each of us to new life, now and always.

  1. Have you ever experienced being more dead than alive and, if so, what caused this? How did you emerge from the "Valley of Dry Bones"?
  2. What makes you feel the most fully alive?
  3. When you are in a place of "flow" or aliveness, does anything shift in your relationship with God or in how you pray?
  4. Which of the two gospel readings for today resonates with you the most and why?
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