We can only imagine…
March 29, 2020
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,’ says the LORD.
We are all in a moment of truth…and promise…and in a strange new time when it seems as if someone reached over and hit the pause button, and everything just stopped…
Verse 11 of today’s reading from Ezekiel says: ‘Then the Lord said to me, “Mortal one, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’
And I have to ask…is that not just like our life, here in late March of 2020? Doesn’t that sound exactly like we all are feeling right now? Aren’t we also feeling dried up, with no hope, and cut off completely…totally disconnected, totally disjointed? We are…we most definitely are…
But by grace, that is not the only message of our passage…for it also says in verse 5, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’ And that my friends…that, is a promise…both for Israel in the time of our scripture, and for us today as we confront this pandemic virus. And that means our passage reflects a reality that is not only or completely bad news, and for a number of reasons.
To start with, the very fact that we feel so out of sorts, that we feel so lost and disconnected, means that our lives together before all this came to pass were far richer and far more important than we may have realized… far richer and far more important. And it also sheds light on why now, even the smallest opportunity to say hello or to check in and wish someone well over the phone, or in a text, or with a message has become so critically important for all of us. Yes, we are in a time of jumbled, disconnected, and fearful dry bones…waiting on the Lord to once again breathe new life and hope into our gathered consciousness. And I believe, that even this time of anxious waiting, can in fact be a blessing if we can step back for just a moment, to try and imagine how God might be working for good, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
And I think it may be helpful to start by considering that this time apart could actually be a ‘Sabbath Rest’ of sorts for us. A moment for us all to stop, to ‘press that pause button’ ourselves, in order to slow down and think deeply about our life and our relationships, both with our faith and our God, as well as with each other. But as a sabbath rest, it is also a gifted opportunity, an opportunity to learn how to become comfortable with just being quiet, with being in solitude for at least part of each day…a chance to prayerfully contemplate our God of love, and how it is we are called to follow along beside him, when in truth and in reality, we can only travel in our thoughts and dreams. Yes, in many ways this truly is a time of profound silence and solitude.
Lately Nan and I have taken to going for a walk or two each day. And each time I go out I am struck by how relatively silent the world around us has become, as so few cars pass by, if any, and as there are no longer the frequent noise and contrails of planes flying high overhead, or even regularly scheduled train whistles calling across the valley…everything has become hushed and quiet. As if everything around us has entered a time of ‘rest’.
When I read this ‘dry bones’ scripture in the past, I think I most likely viewed it as both a criticism and as a promise, with emphasis on the former. Both a criticism of how far away Israel had wandered in their trust in the Lord, and a view into the consequences of that ‘distancing’ on their outlook and hope. And a ‘promise’, as expressed in the Lord’s words that assured them that God alone could and would bring them back, back into trusting in the Lord alone, back into the joy of being fully alive, back into a place of feeling empowered with the spirit of holy compassion and love.
Our passage starts out with the pile of dry bones just lying there, baking and bleached by the heat of the sun, devoid of hope or of any sense of life and future promise. Lost, alone, abandoned, without sense or purpose, they were just sitting there. Almost as if they too had received a ‘shelter in place’ order. But for our God, that was just not an acceptable lot for humanity, God was not willing to let those dry and hopeless bones remain there in that valley of death, and so the promise was offered…and those disjointed and disconnected bones reconnected, and became living, joyous, and exuberant expressions of God’s creative love once again.
We, here, in this time, are in that period of waiting there in the desert…in that time before the bones are joined together again, before they become whole and fully alive again…waiting for some sense of normalcy to return, waiting for our hope to be fulfilled…waiting in silent tho’ fearful anticipation. We too, like those bones, are in a ‘waiting period of silence and inactivity’, waiting for the eventual outcome of what seems like a reset on a massive scale. A reset which we, as the church of our Lord in this time and within our community can learn from, and hopefully not squander. Waiting to once again join together in joyous fellowship.
But for now, we truly have no idea how long this forced isolation will go on, and anyone who says they do know is probably misleading you. But this time at home and apart from one another has also given us an opportunity to look deep within our own hearts and, into the mission of our church within the community, in order to imagine, dream, and prepare ourselves for this new thing the Lord is doing in our midst. For the bones may be dry right now, but the promise will be revealed in its own proper time. Until then, we are blessed with the opportunity to ponder, to affirm, and to take advantage of what we are able to do even in this time, as our Lord continues to work towards bringing the light of grace and hope into the darkness of this moment.
And please, let us all be careful not mistake this moment and these ‘dry bones’ as something that God in wrathful anger brought upon us…for we do not need God to give us more pain or evil than we already frequently, and so easily bring upon ourselves. Together we, and the earth, are in that moment before reconnection…that moment before starting back up, perhaps and hopefully in brand new ways…ways of greater connection and care, more frequent expressions of love and compassion, and more genuine concern regarding the welfare of our every neighbor…and of the earth that sustains us.
Indeed, perhaps this is a most holy of times, when the grapes of new wine of a church being renewed, are being gathered, crushed down, and set aside to ferment as they are infused with new life. Which, if it is true, then by extension also means that some of the old and well-worn wineskins of the church of yesterday, or last week, or last month, may no longer be as useful, as the call goes out for new wineskins of never-before-imagined flexibility…and all with a brand-new sense of relevance and purpose. And it is truly here, in this time of Sabbath Rest, that our prayers and dreams on what our Lord is asking should be laser-focused. For our God never wastes an opportunity when humanity actually turns and listens anew to the call of the Spirit. And this my friends, may just may be one of those most blessed moments. For ‘who’ we are and how we ‘do’ or ‘be’ the family of God, may well have been changed profoundly by the time this is over. This moment, to truly discover new ways of caring for one another, of trusting in our God, and walking forward in the shadow of this cross, may serve to lead us into a brand new understanding of what it means to offer our lives in service to one another and to dwell in the blessings that such a surrender always ensures.
Or…or if we are not careful…if we see this time of ‘dry bones’ as just another in a line of unfortunate events apart from, or heaven forbid, even caused by God…if we do not take this opportunity to enter a time of Sabbath and there to draw nearer to our God…then we may have wasted the moment and learned nothing new regarding how best to be a light of grace and hope for our world. And we also may not have learned any better how to love one another in a way that truly sees, hears, and feels the needs of a heart other than our own.
You know, for so long now we have all been taught, that the answer to the question, ‘What is the church’…is…‘the church is the people of God, and not the buildings’. Well my friends, we could not have been given a better or a richer opportunity to prove and to demonstrate that this is what we truly believe. Being told not to use the Church sanctuary, in fact being forbidden to gather in groups larger than 5 or 10 anywhere, has given us the space, and now the time, to reflect on our purpose as a family called together to serve our God, one another, and our community.
And the struggle of not knowing how long this new and uncomfortable reality of staying apart will last…is just that…a cross we all must bear. But it is a cross we all carry together as well. The projections on how long we must remain distant from one another range from weeks to a goodly number of months, before either a treatment is in place or the virus responds as we hope it will and drops off drastically in response to the steps and precautions we are taking.
But regardless of how long or how short this time apart is, we need to find ways to ‘be together’ spiritually and at least visually or within hearing through an increased use of technology. And, as I take part in more and more of these new-style meetings online, I am finding that though it is indeed a poor substitute for actually being in the same space together, there have also been moments of profound comfort as well. Almost overnight it seems, the internet and the connections it allows, has made it into a vital link for all of us to ‘see’ and to ‘hear’ one another, to smile, to laugh, and to show and share our love for each other. It will take us a while to learn how to be together in these new ways…and it truly is a challenge…but we can do it, we will do it, and we must do it!
So…pray, imagine, dream, reach out to one another, and get ready for the new wine that is even now forming in our midst! By grace we will share it again together in a world one day cleansed of this present affliction…for the God who promised, ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’, can surely bring new life to even the driest of bones in what seems like the driest of sun-baked valleys in which we now find ourselves…
…and I assure you, that if we turn as one, and seek the face of and the voice of our Lord…
…then like our Lord on that first Easter morn…we shall rise again!