By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
Lent is over. Now it is time to celebrate Holy Week and Easter. For forty days, we tried to understand the rough words spoken to us as a priest marked our foreheads with ashes: “Remember, mortal, that you are dust and to dust you will return” (Gn 3:19). Now we try to understand that marvelous event which took place two-thousand years ago, when dust returned from the dead in the Body of Christ. We are dust, and we will die. But one day, by divine power, we will rise again to live with God forever.
I love Lent because its honesty prepares us for Easter. It prepares us for Easter because we rejoice in the resurrection in the measure that we have grieved over sin and death. For forty days, we tried to face our finitude and weaknesses, our sins and the tragedies that spring from them. Dropping the Gloria and Alleluia from mass, changing to liturgical purple, completing acts of prayer, almsgiving and penance – all this helped us to feel the truth of things, and so prepare us for Easter.
We rejoice at Easter in the measure that we have walked with Ezekiel through that terrible valley of dry bones (Ezk 37:1-14). Imagine the dark skies. White bones everywhere and mountains on all sides blocking the horizon and narrowing our vision. All we see is ruin. Amid the bones are scattered pictures from our conflicts (the pictures are faded and the glass is broken). We see empty prescription bottles, unpaid bills and other signs of our brokenness. A valley of bones. “How dry they were!” (Ezk 37:2).
If in your own walk with Ezekiel you are given the gift of tears – for sin and death are worth crying about – then you are ready for the Easter promise of resurrection, which completes our movement in faith: “O my people! I will open your graves and have you rise from them! 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. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord!” (Ezk 37:12-14).
Sometimes, Catholics are criticized for their sobriety. Our crucifixes, penances and long liturgies can seem depressing even to some Christians. Certainly, when our sobriety turns to morbidity, we should be criticized. Joy should always be the last word. But I think we are wise to face down the melancholy moment of life as the key to Christian joy. For we cannot gleefully mock death with St. Paul unless we first stare it in the face: “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55). The gift of the resurrection is precisely to enable us, with tears in our eyes, to shout into this valley of bones, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust!” (Job 19:25).
And then, together with Ezekiel, we prophesy over our lives. Whether today we feel like rejoicing or not, whether we think our life is in order or not, this Easter season we can enter the valley of dry bones with this word from the Lord: “I prophesied as I had been told, and even as I was prophesying I heard a noise – it was a rattling as the bones came together, bone joining bone. I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them, and the skin cover them… I prophesied as the Lord God told me, and the spirit came into them. They came alive and stood upright, a vast army” (Ezk 37:7-10).
The empty tomb means little to those who do not contemplate it when it is full. If we sugar coat or lives and ignore our bones, we end up living very superficially with fake smiles and anxious hearts. I love Christ because he enables us to live honestly and fearlessly. This Holy Week and Easter, let us follow him all the way through Calvary as he allows evil to spend itself upon him – to do its worst. If we follow him into the tomb on Good Friday, then we will be ready to rejoice deeply at his resurrection on Easter Sunday, when we see that the last word in all things belongs to the good and omnipotent God.
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving.