Life Before Death
Ezekiel 37.14 I will put my breath in them, bring them back to
Perhaps the most distressing
experience anyone can have is to watch life become death. All living
things die. Thus an ancient question asks which is greater - life or
Death is all around us. A household pet dies and parents
must somehow help young children come to terms with the event. A farm
brimming with life falls silent as livestock is culled to prevent disease.
Innocent women and children die in a revenge attack, a suicide bomber
kills herself and others, the Twin Towers episode kills thousands. The
reality of death forces itself on us, like it or not.
More difficult, perhaps because we ourselves are alive
and tend to take life for granted, is to to be constantly aware of new
life around and in us. But it's there, flowing silently yet strongly and
One aspect of life is sometimes forgotten - that it
demands from us constant response and adaptation. In return life gives
itself without reservation to those who choose to seize it. Only when we
die does change cease. Attempting to prevent change is as it were to
freeze life. Though that response may be understandable, it is essentially
That's what Ezekiel understood. What greater
transformation could there possibly be than for a ditch full of dry bones
to come to life? What more gripping a scenario than to see the bones
"covered with sinews and muscles, and then with skin ... Breath entered
the bodies and they came to life and stood up" ? The prophet was affirming
that the glass is not empty or even half full - but brimful of vitality
and energy constantly overflowing, transforming and renewing us.
Ezekiel, like most until modern times, thought of life
as a kind of force or energy which God gave and took away as he wished.
What is clear to us now is that all life is inter-connected. It forms a
great web spread across the face of our planet, complex, shifting,
changing and growing. To be pro-life is much, much more than to protest
about abortion, for example. It's to recognise and affirm in every
possible way that we are curators of the Garden of Eden. Life on earth is
our gift and our responsibility.
The test of what's worthwhile to us in daily living is
how we feel at peak times in our lives. We talk about the "depths" of
life, recalling perhaps how bad we felt when things looked bleak, when
deep emotional attachments were broken, or when failure stalked and then
But on the peaks of life, it's different. Then we look
out on the world with excitement and joy, marveling at the wonders of all
Looking forward to Easter as a festival of life, it
becomes clear that life has a quarrel with those who regard Lent as a time
to "give things up", to discipline ourselves anew. The quarrel arises
because restriction and control of life is the opposite of what makes
Jesus so attractive. His impact has grown over two millennia not because
of tales of miracles, or wise teaching, or the Church, but because so many
have recognised in him life which can't be destroyed. They want that life
Through the witness of Jesus and countless others we
know that life comes before death, abundant life, a cup of life brimming
and running over - as the Gospels so frequently remind us. I doubt that
Jesus would have got much out of a traditional Lent, so often sombre and
negative as it is. Whether we look at a Jesus of history or a Jesus
created and interpreted by his followers, one thing is clear: he was
pro-life in the broadest sense. He seems to have had so strong a grip on
life that some people were convinced he couldn't die.
Life, says the Christian faith, can't be restricted or tamed or
imprisoned. Beware of those who preach a God of limitations, of ideas and
virtues set in concrete, of a reality once and for always defined by
Shaka, the great chieftain of the Zulu nation, is reputed to have been
horrified by the Western practice of imprisoning criminals. "I am more
merciful," he's supposed to have said. "I give them death." Perhaps he
realised that imprisonment is a sort of living death. The first thing John
reports Jesus saying when Lazarus is raised is, "Untie him!" Unless we can
explore life, live it out fully to the best of our abilities, we will find
it hard to discover the joy of being.
Lent, then, isn't about getting into training to keep the rules better,
as I've so often heard it said. It's about "turning around" to live life
more fully. Repentance isn't repentance unless it brings new life - which
is why we regard Easter as the high point of the Christian year.
Easter is the time each year when those who call themselves Christian
join many others throughout the world to reaffirm that life is the point
of it all.