Sunday, March 26, 2017

Can They? Can They? Can They?

Lazarus is brought back to life. The valley of dry bones is brought back to life. These resurrection-themed texts are the readings for Lent 5A (Ezekiel 37: 1-14, John 11:1-45), giving a little glimpse of the Easter that is getting closer and closer. The Ezekiel passage is visually engaging and has inspired artists to create images of jumbles of bones in inhospitable landscapes. The gospel reading is perhaps less visual, as it is difficult to capture an image of the moment of reanimation.

Surely we all rejoice when bone connects to bone and sinews and muscles appear and the breath of God brings life where there was none before. But what about before the unexpected (though welcome) conclusion? Did Ezekiel or Mary or Martha believe that dry bones could live? Do we really believe that dry bones can live?
Henry A. Bowler. The Doubt: Can These Bones Live? 1855. London: Tate.
Henry Alexander Bowler's canvas (above) shows a woman in a country churchyard, leaning on a gravestone seemingly pondering what is around her. The stone on which she leans marks the grave of John Faithful, who died in 1791. A skull and femur erupt from the dirt in front of her. Engraved on the stone, though she cannot see it, is the text "I am the Resurrection and the Life." The stone on which falls the shadow of the tree has the engraved word "Resurgam" ("I will rise again"). But Bowler's title for the painting, while quoting Ezekiel, makes us wonder. The work is titled The Doubt: Can These Dry Bones Live? Doubt. This woman, dressed in the clothing of the artist's day rather than the clothing fashionable at the time of John Faithful's death, wonders. She doubts. Can they live?
(Left) Mary and Martha meet Jesus at the City Gate. Chichester Cathedral, UK. 12th century. (Right) Barry Moser. Valley of Dry Bones. Pennyroyal Caxton Bible.
The gospel text tells us that Martha went out to meet Jesus when he (finally!) arrived in Jerusalem. The relief above left, from Chichester Cathedral, shows both Mary and Martha meeting Jesus at the gate. Both are shown in positions of supplication. Jesus, as the most important figure is tallest. And in the text, Martha is perhaps not quite as submissive as she appears in the relief. In the text she meets Jesus with bold conversation. She believes that Lazarus will rise at the last day. But now? Can they live?

Ezekiel is asked the question: Mortal, can these bones live? Can they? Ezekiel has the answer: O Lord God, you know. That is the answer. God does know. And God's answer to Mary and Martha and Lazarus and Ezekiel is, "Yes, they can." Look around you at things that look lifeless and hopeless. Situations, landscapes, relationships. Is it possible that with God even those dry bones can live? Can they?

This week on Art&Faith Matters' Facebook page...crying from the Psalm. Click on the link below.

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