RE-MEMBERING THE BODY
by Fr. Jonathan Hemmings
Ezekiel 37:3: "Son of Man, can these bones live?
The Lord’s question to the prophet and priest Ezekiel was posed whilst the prophet was in exile in Babylon. He had a vision of bleached white bones lying on the plains of Megiddo. The wreckage and carnage of war, the remaining remnants of men’s dry bones, lay before the prophet’s eyes. Ezekiel answers the Lord’s question with as much faith as he can muster:
"Lord, thou knowest."
God tells the prophet to prophesy to the bones. His preaching which had hitherto fallen on deaf living ears of the Israelite exiles is now directed at dry dead bones at the command of God. Ezekiel, obedient to his commission is called to persevere in his ministry amidst this scene of lifelessness.
The Christian priest no less is called to persevere and to preach the Resurrection of Christ to stubborn hearts and to persist despite the seeming hopelessness of the situation in which he may find himself. A priest of God also has a prophetic ministry to proclaim eternal truths rather than to seek for temporal techniques in the belief that they may prove more effective in bringing greater immediate rewards.
Ezekiel was instructed by God to prophesy to the wind. The word ruach in Hebrew serves for breath, wind and spirit. Prophesying to the wind was to call upon the Holy Spirit to bring life to these bones:
"Breathe upon those slain that they may live."
St John of Kronstadt understood the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer for the priest when he said:
"Strengthen yourself by praying confidently and without doubt to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. He is well known to you. You often invoke Him upon the Holy Gifts, and He at your prayer, always changes them into the Body and Blood of Christ. You yourself, again and again, partake of the fruits of His divine working."
This twofold activity of preaching and prayer caused the bones to come together, clothed by flesh and sinews and for the breath of life to enter into them. We see in this Old Testament type a foreshadowing of Christian priesthood. The ministry of the Word is exercised by faith, the Spirit energises the ministry of the Sacrament, and obedience and submission to the Will of God undergird both.
In Luke 23:42 the repentant criminal crucified with Jesus pleads:
"Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
The request in faith is met by Christ’s immediate and abundant response:
"Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise."
"Can these bones live again?" It is the question of everyone who stands at the graveside of a departed loved one. God’s "Yes" is expressed in the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Romans 8:11:
"If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the grave will give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."
The bones of the faithful departed will live again clothed with imperishable, immortal and spiritual bodies. Because Christ is the Resurrection and the Life it is our duty to bring the names of the departed before the throne of grace in faith, hope and love-the love, which is of God and that is stronger than death. We bring those who are known to us and those known to the Father alone in prayer so that both they and ourselves may be re-membered in the Kingdom of Heaven as glorified members of the Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sayings of the Desert Fathers
It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the Fathers were sitting around him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them,"Look, Abba Antony is coming." A little while later on he said, "Look, the choir of the prophets is coming." Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, "Look, the choir of apostles is coming."
His countenance increased in brightness and he spoke with someone. The old men asked him, "With whom are you speaking, father?" He said, the angels have come to fetch me and I am begging them to let me stay and do a little penance." The old men said to him, "You have no need to do penance, father." But the old man said to them, "Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet."
Once more his countenance suddenly became like the sun and they were all filled with fear. He said to them, "Look, the Lord is coming and he is saying, "Bring me the vessel from the desert." Then there came a flash of lightning and all the house was filled with sweet odour.