That passage from the prophet Ezekiel is the last of seven Old Testament readings given as options (each with its own Psalm response) offered for the celebration of the Easter Vigil. I choose Ezekiel because, confronted by such an “embarrassment of riches” as subject matter for a Daily Reflection, one simply has to choose.
Ezekiel speaks this word of the Lord, as he does all his visions, from the vantage point of the Babylonian captivity. The Lord has scattered Israel from its homeland because of its “uncleanness” and idolatry. But this punitive stage is coming to an end. The Lord is now going to restore his people, and this restoration is described here as a cleansing and the bestowal of his Spirit, expressed in the verses we all remember from this passage:
This, surely, is part of the background to John the Baptist’s prophecy: “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). Jesus is going to bring about the long-awaited “restoration from exile” through his Pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit. We understand that to have occurred in our baptism. So this prophecy of Ezekiel is one of several wonderfully apt choices for the Easter Vigil, the time when we baptize catechumens and also recall our own baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
All of this is marvelously obvious. But most of us miss the import of the earlier part of this reading, the part where the Lord gives his motive for restoring Israel:
To paraphrase: You guys are giving me a bad name. I’m going to fix up my good name by fixing you up—cleansing you with my Spirit and turning your stony hearts back into hearts of flesh.
It has been suggested, and I think it is true, that this is the background of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be thy name.” When we pray that, we are asking that the Lord continue to fulfill the promise of Ezekiel 36. Known as your people, our behavior has been giving you a bad reputation. Sanctify us with your Holy Spirit, O Lord, transform our hearts so that your name may be glorified among the nations.
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