Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 29, 2020 – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; John 11:1-45 – STEM-Wide Morning Prayer (via Zoom)
At this point in the season of Lent, the lectionary makes it ever clearer that we are inching our way toward that glorious day of resurrection.
Our collect this morning will have us praying, even among the swift and varied changes of the world, for hearts fixed where true joys are to be found. In other words, for hearts fixed on Jesus.
As Christians, we certainly hear echoes of the resurrection life in this morning’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.
“. . . Suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together . . . there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them . . . the Lord God [said,] ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live’. . . and the breath came into them, and they lived.”
Here we have Ezekiel witnessing the work of God, which is the restoration of God’s chosen people. But, more important than Ezekiel’s witnessing of God’s work is his participation in it.
God does not simply restore these dry bones in the presence of Ezekiel. God leads Ezekiel to the valley where the bones lay, and God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones on God’s behalf. Make no mistake—the work is God’s—but God invites Ezekiel to participate in it.
Likewise, God invites you to participate in God’s work this day and all days, even in the midst of your own dry and desolate valleys. Even in valleys of sickness, or grief, or isolation, God enjoins you and empowers you to participate in the work of creation and re-creation which never, ever stops.
I bet you do it all the time; maybe without even noticing.
Did you support—in a safe and appropriate way—a struggling small business this week? Did you send a text, or make a phone call, or leave a message for a friend? Did you pray for someone less fortunate than you, someone who you thought really needed it? Or did you pray for someone a lot better off than you? Someone who doesn’t think they need your prayers at all?
God empowers you to do all these things and more, even when—especially when—you’re caught in the doldrums of life.
It’s ironic that sometimes in the worst of situations we realize the greatest of blessings. It is actually quite miraculous how God can change your perspective in an instant.
Earlier this week I heard someone say, “My family is talking more. We’re staying in touch regularly. We’re checking in on each other every day. Sometimes it’s hard to get off the phone. We cannot physically be together, but it is as if we have grown closer in spite of—or perhaps because of—our distance.”
Perhaps you are comforted to know that you do not walk through these low and lonely places alone. You are joined, not only by the faithful assembled here and across the virtual scope of Christendom this day, but by the people of God in every age.
God’s people have been walking through dry and desolate valleys for a long, long time. Some have even written about it, prayed about it. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” You may have heard it before.
This morning’s psalm puts it a bit differently. “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.”
Whatever words are used to convey the message, the fact remains that the people of God have been here before. And now, not only in our Lenten season but in this time of physical isolation, we find ourselves waiting for the Lord once again. Waiting for the Lord, as Psalm 130 says, “more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”
For Christians, this time of waiting is not passive. It is no time for boredom and complacency. Christian waiting is active waiting; it is expectant waiting.
It is the kind of waiting we experience each year during Advent and Lent. As Dr. Wright said during last Tuesday’s Bible study, this is “waiting in a particular direction.” We know what’s coming next.
God’s people know that things are going to get better. God’s people know that they will be recalled from exile and set back upon their own soil.
God’s people know that the scattered bones will once again be wrapped in flesh and filled with the breath of God. God’s people know that, as soon as Jesus finishes crying, the newly-resuscitated Lazarus is going to walk out of the tomb.
God’s people know that the pandemic will end, that the economy will begin to recover, that they will see their friends and family members again and be able to hug them up close.
We know these things, not because we cling to a naïve faith that ignores the suffering of the present time, not because we deny the desolate nature of this period of waiting.
On the contrary, we know these things because we see reminders of the resurrection all around us, every day. People re-build after storms. Volunteers travel thousands of miles to lend a hand. Leaves grow back on trees. Babies are born. New crops take root. Retirement accounts slowly begin to grow again. New jobs are created, obtained, learned.
Yes, crucifixion is evident as well. People get sick, and some die. Jobs and businesses may be lost. Communities will be changed in ways no one could ever have imagined.
But no matter how hard the crucifixions may be, they never have the last word. The last word is reserved for the Word which renews us in the wake of every obstacle. That Word to us is Love.
And so it is in Love we wait. Yes, we grieve, we work, we watch, we weep. But most of all we love because we have been through this before, and we know exactly what awaits us on the other side.