The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.
The visions of the prophet Ezekiel interpret one of the most catastrophic events in the history of the Israelites.
In the year 587 BC the last remnant of what was once one of the mightiest kingdoms of the ancient world was destroyed- the Kingdom of David.
In 587 BC the armies of the Babylonian empire invaded the city of Jerusalem; desecrated and destroyed the temple of Solomon, (which had been one of the wonders of the world), slaughtered the royal family, (the descendants of Israel’s greatest king, David); enslaved the Israelites (who would spend long years of painful exile in Babylon); and tore down the walls of city, leaving nothing but ruins.
Israel was no more, at least so it seemed.
Ezekiel interprets these terrifying events, and he does so theologically- that is, he asks what God is doing and why. Why has such suffering been brought upon the very people that God called his own? What would God do in response to the sufferings of the Israelites?
Today’s excerpt from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel is written as a kind of code- God speaks to Ezekiel, indicating that the rulers of his people, whom Ezekiel identifies as “shepherds”, the descendants of King David, had for the most part been a disaster and had led the people astray. The preoccupation of the cultural and political elites of the Israelites with wealth, pleasure, power and honors had poisoned the hearts and minds of the people, and the consequence of this were the horrific events of 587 BC. The rulers and elites’ preoccupation with wealth, pleasure, power and honors ultimately delivered God’s people into the hands of their enemies.
What would God do in response? Would he abandon his people?
Ezekiel counsels that God would not abandon his people, but he would rescue them from their enemies and he would himself become the shepherd of his people- that is, in coded language, Ezekiel’s way of saying that God would become their king. No longer would the people be subject to the corruptions of earthly rulers or elites, for God would make himself their king.
Ezekiel also insists that when God the king revealed himself he would set things right and bear a judgment upon all those who through their preoccupation with wealth, pleasure, power and honor, had brought such harm to the Israelites.
What does all this mean?
For us Christians, the vision of Ezekiel and the promise of God the Shepherd who reveals himself as the king, foreshadows or anticipates the revelation of Christ the Lord. Remember, we Christians believe that the Lord Jesus is not merely one of many great men of history. Christ the Lord is not merely a philosopher, social activist, political agitator, or spiritual guru. Instead Jesus the Lord is really and truly God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life- and God has done this so as to reveal himself as not only the king of the Israelites, but of all the nations, indeed of all of heaven and of earth, of the universe itself.
The Church’s second scripture is from the New Testament, an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians who lived in the ancient city of Corinth.
The apostle Paul’s purpose in this particular scripture is to give testimony- testimony to Christ- who he is and what he has accomplished and in his testimony St. Paul insists that Christ has a power that no earthly power can claim- and what is this unique power? The power to defeat death, a power that Christ manifests in his resurrection from the dead.
Remember, we Christians believe that the Lord Jesus who is God, revealed himself in real flesh and real blood- he lived, God lived, like us a real, human life and he died a real human death. But death was not the end of him, for in dying, God in Christ revealed his power to be greater than death and this is what his resurrection signifies to us. And just as his flesh and blood is real and the human life he lived is real, and the death he died is real, so also is his resurrection from the dead.
Christ’s resurrection is no mere symbol or metaphor, but a real event that happened in real space and real time and in a real place. Christ’s body rose from the dead through God’s power in his real body and because of that, St. Paul insists, the world has changed.
That’s what we Christians believe and we refuse to accept anything less than a real event in a real body when it comes to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
For St. Paul, the resurrection of Christ reveals the extent of his power, a power greater than any earthly power- a power greater than the rulers and elites of any age or any nation. St. Paul testifies that so often the rulers of world claim power over our lives, even threatening us with death if we do not yield to their claims. Earthly powers claim and exercise the power to kill, to take life, but God in Christ nullifies their claim to power because he has the power to not only give life, but to raise that life from the dead.
And while we might be enamored and pre-occupied with earthly powers- the politician, the celebrity, the financier, St. Paul insists we pay attention to Christ the Lord, for only he can give life and deliver us from death.
That’s the testimony of St. Paul to the Christians of Corinth- and his testimony to us Christians gathered here today.
Finally, the Lord Jesus presents a frightening vision in his Gospel. He evokes the end of all days, the revelation in this world of an ancient vision from the Old Testament Book of Daniel of one called the “Son of Man”. This Son of Man, who reveals in himself the power of God in the form of a man, comes into the world to set things right and this setting right means that those who have been the victims of earthly powers, whose cries for help were drowned out in the cacophony of politics, whose dignity was assaulted by the pretenses of culture, and whose lives were made miserable by the deprivations of poverty, will finally receive justice. And this justice will also mean a harsh sentence on those who preference and preoccupation with wealth, pleasure, power and honors, made them indifferent to the sufferings of those around them.
Who is this Son of Man? It is Christ the Lord himself. And when will this frightening vision of Christ who comes to set things right come to pass? Sooner than we think.
Remember Christians, it is our faith that Christ the Lord really and truly comes into our lives and into our world- personally and does so in history, in mystery and in judgement.
Christ comes in history in his revelation as God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life- and it is this revelation in history that the scriptures attest to. Thus did God in Christ reveal himself in history.
Christ also comes in mystery, really and truly, but mysteriously in the Church, which is his Body in the world, continuing his revelation in the flesh throughout space and time and through the Church he makes his presence known in the Sacraments, in the lives of the Saints and in the suffering bodies of the poor. Thus does God in Christ reveal himself in mystery.
But Christ also comes in judgement. And what is his judgement? It is the revelation of our truth, a ruthless test of our sincerity as his disciples. He has given us his Word- have we believed it? He has entrusted his with his Church- have we been willing to serve? He has given us his way of life- have we lived it? He has insisted that we love one another as he loves us- have we done what he asked us to do?
That moment of judgement is not in a future far away- it is right now. For in history Christ came into this world and in mystery he remains in world. And in our encounter with him, in history or mystery, our truth will be revealed and our sincerity tested. The Son of Man has come. The day of judgement of which Christ speaks is now.