by Father Mike Stubbs
During the month of October, a person can wander into any number of “haunted houses,” which aim to provide a scary atmosphere in preparation for Halloween. However, these artificially macabre venues cannot compete with the real thing.
For a truly gruesome experience, visit the crypt beneath the Capuchin church in Rome. There, the ceilings and walls are covered with bones from approximately 4,000 skeletons. Back in the Middle Ages, a load of earth from the Holy Land was donated to the church. It was placed in the crypt, which consequently became a desirable spot for burial. When eventually all the burial plots in this precious earth were occupied, the skeletons of the now decayed corpses were dug up to make room for new ones. Their bones were used to decorate the crypt.
The prophet Ezekiel witnesses a similarly macabre scene. He views a vast plain, covered with human bones. As he looks on, the spirit of God moves among the bones to join them together into skeletons. It continues to add sinews and flesh and covers them with skin. Finally, the Spirit breathes new life into them.
The vision sets the stage for the prophecy that we hear as Sunday’s first reading, Ez 37:12-14: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.”
It appears as though this prophecy does not refer to actual physical resurrection, but is a metaphor for spiritual resurrection. The people of Israel have been languishing in exile in Babylon. They are totally demoralized. God wishes to lift their spirits, to give them hope, to have them return to the land of Israel, to reconstitute them as a nation. Resurrection serves as a suitable metaphor for what God has in store.
On the other hand, the people of Israel did eventually arrive at a belief in the resurrection of the individual. It would not involve a mere metaphor, but the physical body of the person.
This prophecy of Ezekiel paved the way for that later belief in the resurrection
of the dead. Belief in the resurrection also will be a key point in our faith. It is specifically mentioned in both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday anticipates the resurrection of all those who believe in him.
Ultimately, our belief in the Resurrection responds to God’s promise to us. As God tells us in Sunday’s first reading: “I have promised, and I will do it.”