Ezekiel 37:21-28 (NRSVCE)
Ezekiel prophesies that God will unite the divided kingdoms of Judah and Samaria, and unite them into one kingdom under David, the one king. But we can easily see how this is also a prophesy for the true King, Jesus, who unites the two kingdoms (the Jews and the Gentiles) under Himself. This connection is explicitly made by John in today´s Gospel reading. But since we covered that one during Lent last year, I won’t dwell too much on it this time around.
Notice how overt the references to Christ become in the second half of this passage. God will make an everlasting covenant of peace with Israel. Jesus is, of course, the Prince of Peace who establishes the New Covenant which does not end. God sets His dwelling place among Israel, which we know is a reference to the Incarnation, in which the Son comes to dwell among men as man, forever. The nations will know that the Lord sanctifies Israel because He dwells among them.
Sanctification is tied explicitly to the closeness of God to man. As we approach God, we are sanctified. We’ve discussed this a few times so far this Lent, about how through sanctification and following Christ on the path to the source of our being (namely, God) we more fully become who we are. Our sins and imperfections fall away in this process of sanctification. The Law was given to Israel to set them apart, so that by adhering to it they would become more holy. How much more we are able to do this when it is not only a law that was given, but God himself who was given to us? In Jesus, God has never before been closer to man. He is so united to man that the Son truly is man Himself. So how much more are we able to be sanctified so long as we cleave to our King? So long as we follow close to our Good Shepherd?
One of the ways we must follow is, of course, through imitation. Jesus is both perfectly holy and fully man, so who better to imitate? But remember that the holiness of Jesus, the closeness of Jesus to the Father and the tightness of his will and the Father’s will, meant that Jesus was ready to lay down his life for others and for God. Are we so willing? It’s easy to say we are, and it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which you lay down your life for your friends and family, or for your faith. But if it were to come down to it, how many of us would actually be ready to do that? Martyrdom is not a pleasant subject to talk about, but it is a reality that Christians throughout history and even today have to face. Countless Christians have been persecuted for their faith, and countless have died. We have the luxury in America of living in a society built, largely, by Christians. So persecution isn’t really a concern, and martyrdom is completely off the radar. But that’s the level of imitation we need.
Christ died for us, Christ was persecuted for us, Christ was brutalized for us. Would we be so willing to do the same for him?