April 17: Sleepers Awaken!

Uh, er, after yesterday’s deep philological dive into Easter vocabulary I appreciate the three readers willing to continue with me here….ah, em, we’ll try to not geek like that too often.  And before anyone draws the direct reference of today’s reflection title with Frank Herbert’s epic 1965 Dune (and there goes the geek pledge early!), Herbert got it from us!  For scripturally-based Christians like us, exploring Resurrection more deeply means beginning at the beginning, just like Jesus, Paul, Peter, John and the New Testament authors all did.  How did our Jewish forebears understand and articulate any conception of life after death?  The answer may surprise you…

The beginning?  Ah, yes, the first humans in the Garden in Genesis chapter 3.  Lost in most sermons is the plain textual statement that eating the fruit (rest easy, Granny Smith lovers, the word “apple” does not appear in the Hebrew…I prefer visualizing kumquats) results in death.  The obverse, which the serpent craftily omits, is therefore axiomatic: to not eat the fruit is to enjoy enduring, eternal life!  We were created and designed for eternity, and sin’s corruptive contagion poisoned God’s desire that we abide with Him forever.  I find it remarkable the Jewish tradition envisions a beneficent God wanting only to be intimately related to humankind in love, especially when Israel’s neighboring Canaanite deities scared the living %$&#@ out of their adherents (child sacrifice for Molech, as just one gruesome example).

Later, as various existential crises shook Israel both individually and corporately, God’s relentless, covenantal love remained persistent when Israel repeatedly stumbled.  Talk about a dysfunctional union!  Gradually we see in the Hebrew Scriptures (a bit more respectful than our common “Old Testament”) a dawning realization that if God did not balance the scales of justice in this life, for God to be true to God’s own nature (isn’t gender sensitivity grammatically awkward sometimes?!) then ultimate restoration must occur after this life.  An astonishing theological insight and very controversial then and now.  So while a celebrated few cheated death or were “taken by God” before death (Enoch, Moses and more dramatically Elijah…look ‘em up on convenient website biblegateway.com), Israel begins to record the hope of life after death.

The oldest Hebraic claimant is Job, in oral form a core Semitic wisdom tale far older than Abraham.  In chapter 19, verses 23 and following, Job’s anguished plea for God’s future vindication is the very first (chronologically) scriptural citation to include the hope of life after death: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin is destroyed, in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see face to face!  Wow.  Daniel chapter 12, verses 2 and 3: Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky!  Israel’s moral voice, the great prophet Isaiah of Jerusalem, claims in Isaiah chapter 26, verse 29: Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise, O dusty dwellers, awake and sing with joy!  For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead!  Isaiah’s glorious vision of a resurrected and restored Jerusalem resounds through the ages as one of the summits of hope in the Hebrew scriptures, and should touch the heart of anyone who loves our Rocky Mountains.  Too long to cite here, but please, please read it in Isaiah 25:6-8, 10.  And finally, also too long to cite here but you know it well, is Ezekiel’s vision of the Restoration of Israel in captivity, more famously known as the Valley of Dry Bones, in his chapter 37.  Not only is it the inspiration of the popular children’s game “Operation” (remember the classic “Take out wrenched ankle” commercial?!) and the anatomically suspect children’s song (“the knee bone is connected to the…ankle bone…”), but perhaps even more importantly Ezekiel’s vision foretells the resurrection of Jesus and the restoration of both Israel and the Body of Christ.  Yeah, that definitely sounds more important!

  1. Take some time today to read and reflect upon these magnificent passages from the Old Testament.  What do they convey about hope in a dark time?!
  2. Peruse the Book of Common Prayer’s selection of scripture options for our Burial worship, BCP pp. 494-495.  How do they provide a biblical foundation for the Easter proclamation of resurrection?
  3. Join me in reflecting today upon this extraordinary evolution of our Jewish forebears, from the Garden to Ezekiel’s uplifting vision in Babylonian captivity.  How did these passages impact and influence the New Testament authors’ understanding of Easter?

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