First Reading: Ezekiel 36:16-17a 18-28

For the Glory of God

When do your efforts seem futile?

16 The word of YHWH came to me, saying, 17 Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their way and by their doings: their way before me was as the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity. 18 Therefore I poured out my wrath on them for the blood which they had poured out on the land, and because they had defiled it with their idols; 19 and I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them. 20 When they came to the nations, where they went, they profaned my holy name; in that men said of them, These are the people of YHWH, and are gone forth out of his land. 21 But I had respect for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations, where they went. 22 Therefore tell the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord YHWH: I don’t do this for your sake, house of Israel, but for my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations, where you went. 23 I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am YHWH, says the Lord YHWH, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. 24 For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26 I will also give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my ordinances, and do them. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

World English Bible

From his contemporaries’ point of view, Ezekiel must have been an odd man. He was more than a prophet. He was “touched” with dreams and visions. He was almost anti-social when he lived in Jerusalem. And, when his wife died, he was so emotionally devastated, he became a recluse in his own house. Yet, he became one of the major prophets in the history of Israel. He was a transitional figure between the final years of Judea before the fall of Jerusalem and the first years of the Exile in Babylon. In retrospect, his extremes matched those of the fallen nation; his visions became a window into the reasons for the Exile and glimmer of hope.

This passage was taken from the latter section of Ezekiel’s writings, the prophecies of hope. The prophet recounted the reasons for the Exile and the spreading Diaspora (profaning the name of YHWH by mixing Temple worship with rites to foreign gods). But God’s punishment caused other nations to belittle the holy Name (“Look! The people of YHWH are dispersed. What sort of impotent God do they have?!”). Of these two reasons, God would restore his people and his covenant as a way to restore his name. Repentance would have little to do with return; in fact, Ezekiel seemed to imply the people would rise again even with sin in their midst! God seemed to say, “You will be great again because I am great!”

Return meant more than restoration; it meant renewal. God would rededicate the people (through the cleansing ritual), give them a new spirit (replacing hardened hearts with loving hearts), and give them a new resolve (to follow the Law) with his Spirit. God would be the Lord of the people, a people who would enjoy the fulfilled promises made to Abraham of descendants and land.

The Easter Vigil rites celebrate the spirit of Ezekiel’s prophecy. They are meant to renew the community, just as the elect become neophytes through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Even as sinners, we are to celebrate the work of the Spirit. As the Spirit was instrumental in raising Christ from the dead, it raises us to new life. We have been rededicated in the waters of Baptism. We have been given new hearts and a new resolve. We have been made People of God. All this is a gift from God. He did it for his glory, not ours.

How will you celebrate the gifts of faith, renewal, and community God have given you this Easter?