March 29, 2020
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; John 11:1-45
You know the scene in The Return of the King when the ghost army shows up to save the day at the battle of Minas Tirith? It’s an army that broke its promise to show up at the last big battle and is doomed to be a cross between ghosts and zombies until they can keep their promise. When they agree to do that they get out of their mountain holding space and help to defeat the orc army. It’s a great scene but that’s not what this vision in the Valley of the Dry Bones is about.
Ezekiel’s vision is not about an actual army of dead dried bones knit together and brought to life. There was a time when people thought it was. That it was an early expression of the doctrine of resurrection. But it’s not. It’s a vision for the people of Judah – mostly those in exile, but perhaps also those back in Judah.
They were scattered – like bones in the wilderness. Like us in our separate homes. They were scattered and stuck somewhere they didn’t want to be. They could not go to the Temple to offer proper worship through the sacrificial rites. They had to learn how to be the people of God in a strange place, in a strange way, with the heart of their faith taken from them.
Their Temple had been destroyed. Our sense of community has taken a significant blow.
But even in that dried up valley full of dried up bones, God can breathe new life.
These readings – Ezekiel and the Valley of the Bones and the Raising of Lazarus – are our hopeful pre-Easter Readings. As we move towards the temporary triumph of Palm Sunday we know that the hard readings and stories and feelings of Holy Week with its betrayal, denial, pain, disappointment, grief and death are not far away. We can’t get to Easter without going through those things. But we can hold onto the hope that these readings give us.
Which is what we’re doing. Scattered and distant, sealed in our own homes, maybe even stinking a little, we remember that the story of the dry bones coming together and receiving that holy breath is our story. And the story of Lazarus and his sisters’ grief at being separated from him and their joy when they were reunited is our story. Stories of death and love and strength and faith and starting again – these are all our story.
They have been and they will be. And they are.
No matter how dispirited we may feel we remember hugs. And getting together for coffee. And going to the park and seeing people sitting on the benches and children playing in the playground. We remember classes and courses and socializing without a screen. We remember the joy of singing together and hearing each other. We remember potlucks.
And because we remember we can stay the course. Every prophet ever was like Dr Bonnie Henry: telling people what they didn’t want to hear to get them to change their behaviour towards something that was more spiritually healthy. And every prophet ever spoke to people who didn’t change. Or didn’t change enough. Except Jonah – he’s a special case.
But we will. Because we remember hugs and potlucks and singing together and we want those things back. So we are going to take care of one another by staying home. We’ll call, we’ll zoom, we’ll clap on our balconies at 7 in the evening. But we’ll protect our most vulnerable people by not carrying germs to them. We’ll wash our hands incessantly and we won’t stand too close to each other. And we’ll do this with religious fervour because we want this to end. We will be the people who listen to the prophet.
It will not always be easy. We’ll get discouraged and wonder if it will ever end. We’ll need milk but not want to risk the store. We’ll need to talk but be tired of sitting in the same place, staring at faces through the same screen with its laggy sound and fuzzy image. We’ll get tired of comfortable clothes, netflix, the same old books and the same old games.
When that happens we’ll reach out. And sometimes it’ll just happen that as our spirits flag, someone calls us. A friend, a neighbour, someone from church. And we’ll talk and we’ll realize that we’re not alone in this. We’re together. And this is not forever.
And when it does end and life begins to return to normal, we’ll be like Lazarus emerging from the tomb. We’ll forget we can reach out. We’ll forget how to linger over coffee with someone. We’ll forget that we don’t all have to supply our own candle for worship. But then we’ll remember; and as we remember, we will rediscover those joys and all the other ones that we are beginning to miss. Passing people on the sidewalk without having to walk 2 m out of the way. Taking the bus. Popping out to the store to buy milk. Standing in line.
That’s where we’re going. We may be in the Valley of the Dry Bones, scattered and dispirited, sealed up and away from one another, but it’s not forever. It’s just for now. It may be a very long four days, but eventually the voice of Jesus will say “Come out!” Eventually, the breath of God will come and breathe new life into us. And we will come out. Oh, will we ever live!
We’ll blink in the sunlight and stretch out our arms. We’ll come together again.
This is our story. It has been, it will be, it is. Hope and love that triumph over death and despair. Our story. Amen.
Rev. Shannon Tennant