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Thought for the week - 22 May

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. "

Today's Old Testament reading is that wonderful chapter from the book of Ezekiel in which the prophet records his vision of the valley of the dry bones. The context of the reading is the exile of the people of Israel in Babylon. They are cut off from their own land and are in a state of deep despair. The clue to the passage comes in verse 11. What Ezekiel has been hearing from the people around him is a despair that is like death. “‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.'", the people of Israel complain. They are incapable of change or growth because they do not believe in the possibility of life. They are like lifeless, dry bones.

God agrees with them about their condition. They are indeed lifeless and spiritless with no home except the shadowy grave. But they needn't be without hope. God takes Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones and makes him prophesy. "Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the LORD God says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' "

Picture the scene for a moment. The prophet alone in the valley of dust and death, shouting out, calling upon life and breath and spirit, and seeing the response, as the bones re-assemble, take on flesh and begin to come alive. What a wonderful Disney cartoon it would make.

But the life that enters into the dry bones is obviously no natural life. It doesn't come about by the bones re-assembling themselves. It is God who breaths life into the dry bones. All this of course is an image of, a metaphor for the state of the people of Israel in exile. They are dried up, they have lost the ability to live truly. But God promises that he will give them his own breath, his own spirit, so that the life they will live will be God's. Their inability to live for themselves is to be replaced by the gift of God's own presence within them, which is the true life of all. "I will put my Spirit in you and you will live."

In today's Gospel reading Jesus is talking about presence and absence. The whole of the Last Supper is overshadowed by the fact that it is the end - it is the last supper that Jesus will share with his disciples. The disciples don't really understand what is going to happen, even though Jesus tells them that he must leave them soon. He reassures them that though he must leave them, he will still be with them. The whole of the passage is one of reassurance. Jesus spells out the ways in which he will still be with them. He will be with them when they remain faithful to his teaching. "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. " By loving Jesus and obeying his teaching they will be continuing Jesus work of making God present both to themselves and to others. So Jesus reassures them, and us of this continuing presence.

Of course Jesus knows his disciples well. He knows just what sort of people they are, with all their faults and weaknesses. He is realistic and knows that they cannot manage on their own. He doesn't expect them to manage the task of loving him and obeying his teaching on their own. And so he promises that he will send his Holy Spirit to strengthen them. "But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." The life that Jesus gives to his Church through the power of the Holy Spirit, is a new life like that of Ezekiel's dry bones. It is a gift that comes from God himself.

What we are talking about here is the grace of God, the free gift of God. God asks them, and us to make him present; and he enables us to do that by giving himself to us. And what we are given we are asked to give to others. We are given forgiveness and asked to forgive others; we are given love and asked to love others; we are given God and asked to show him to others. Our dry bones are brought to life.

If all this sounds a little theoretical, a little theological, Jesus gives to his disciples a tangible sign of his continued presence with them. At that same last supper he broke the bread, he gave thanks and said 'This is my body which is given for you; eat this in remembrance of me." "He took the cup and gave thanks and said "This is my blood which shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this is in remembrance of me." We are talking not just of fond memories, nor of nostalgia. In fact we can't remember Jesus in that way. We cannot remember what we were not a part of. But the remembrance that Jesus means is much stronger than mere memory. The Greek which lies behind the word remember is very strong indeed. It actually means re-calling, or calling back. So when Jesus says do this in remembrance of me, what he is saying is do this to call me back, to recall me. In other words whilst Jesus is always with us, he is with us in a very special way in this his sacrament. He promises that whenever we share the bread and the wine together he will be there in our midst sharing his risen life with us. We have here the most precious gift, the presence of Jesus himself.

Those first disciples were in a confused state when the supper was ended. They went from listening to the promise of Jesus' continuing presence with them to a state of confusion and despair. But we know that Jesus' promise was a real one and that he did indeed come back to them in the fullness of his risen life. And we know that he continues to remain with us, sharing his risen life with us, particularly in this the sacrament of his presence, but also in the love that we show to others as we falteringly try to be faithful to his teaching

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. "


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