Sunday Mar 29, 2020 – Fifth Sunday in Lent
sermon: New Life Lutheran Church, Dripping Springs, Texas
Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45
What beautiful stories we have today —stories of life coming out of death. What a word to each of us in these times of staying at home and waiting for the virus wave to come through our country and our communities. What a time to think of life emerging from a time of rest.
The land is waking up around us - here at New Life bluebirds are nesting and purple martins have returned! Wildflowers are starting and about to break out in riotous color. Maybe we’ll have new jack rabbit babies! - we love those beautiful lanky rabbits who live here on this land. Spring is here, after a winter of rest, of hibernation and seeds lying cold in the ground.
We are called by these sacred scriptural stories to be people who speak life, people who boldly prophesy that life comes after death, spring comes after winter, energy and creativity come after rest.
Today, on this unusual Fifth Sunday in Lent, we are waiting out a storm in our homes, battening down the hatches until hospitals are not overrun and some sort of normal life can return. And today we have the story of Ezekiel, coming to a valley filled with bones. This valley is most likely a battleground. Ezekiel’s original prophecies were about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. And at this point in his story, that has come to pass. The city is destroyed, the temple toppled, and the people scattered or taken captive into exile in Babylon. King Nebucanezzar has defeated Judah. And here, most likely, is a battle ground in which the winning Babylonian empire has left the dead unburied, as a symbol of defeat, the bodies left to the animals rather than giving the people permission to bury their dead properly.
So this is a scene rich with despair, rich with defeat, rich with failure and hopelessness. For Ezekiel, this could be seen as a failure of his prophetic work. The people did not listen, they did not turn back to the ways of God, and they were destroyed. The Temple, all that they loved, even their center of worship and culture, destroyed.
And here God brings Ezekiel. And God tells Ezekiel not just to watch while God does a new thing, but God tells Ezekiel to command it himself. God says to Ezekiel,
“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.”
“Prophesy to these dry bones - say to them, ‘You shall live!’” What words!
And when Ezekiel spoke the words, the bones rattled and re-formed. And were knit together with sinew and flesh. But did not breathe. And then God said to Ezekiel:
“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.”
Prophesy to the breath! Come breath, from the four winds!
Breath in Biblical Hebrew is ruach. It also translates as wind, and spirit - the animating force of life. “Prophesy,” God says to the prophet, “to the breath, call the four winds, command the spirit of life to animate these bodies again.” And Ezekiel did, and they lived.
Then, after telling him to prophesy to bones and to wind, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy again to the people, who have lost hope.
Then [God] said to [Ezekiel], “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…I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…”
Tell the people who feel as if their very bones have dried up, that God is going open their graves, and put God’s own spirit in them.
And we have this story from Jesus, about his friend Lazarus. Jesus, too, felt the pain of loss, Jesus cried for Lazarus. And then Jesus commanded the onlookers: “Take away the stone.” And then Jesus commanded Lazarus: “Lazarus, come out!” God opened the grave, and brought Lazarus out.
We are telling this story in Lent: it is almost Easter. Not only will God pull the people out of their graves and breathe spirit into them in ancient Israel, not only will Jesus pull Lazarus back from the dead, but God, Jesus himself, will go into the grave, and come back for us. To show us that death does not have the last word, and love wins in the end. To show us that nothing separates us from God, nothing.
We are disciples of Jesus. We are called to follow him, and to speak a word of hope into the world. We are called to face the worst the world has to offer and look into the eyes of the dried up and hopeless, and command them to live. We are called to command the world to roll the stone away that is keeping people trapped in darkness. To command those who feel trapped to come out and breathe fresh air. To prophesy to the wind itself, the great forces of nature, to heal us, to animate us again with life. To raise our voices and call on the Holy Spirit to fill us and let us live.
This is a word of hope for us in an uncertain time - a fearful time. And it is a command to us. To be prophets and disciples to a world in fear, and to those we know who have lost hope. Prophesy to the dry bones of the hopeless and fearful. Tell them that God will find them, and pull them out of their graves. Tell them to walk toward us, out of the grave, into life again. Work with our neighbors to push the stones away for each other.
At New Life, we already knew that the church is not a building. We know that the Body of Christ is the people, each other. We are reminded today that we are to speak life into the world. We also know, here, that the world is also this natural world, that this is our church, too, with the people. Nature, the earth. And this Ezekiel story reminds us to speak to the earth, too. To the wind and the trees and the soil and the sun, and call out, “Help us! Heal us. Animate us again.”
We know that speaking life to those around us in pain often literally means coaxing them outside, into the fresh air, the sun, for a walk.
There is healing in community. We help keep each other from despair. And there is healing outside, with our non-human community. With the birds, the rabbits, the plants.
Come out! Come out and breathe that fresh air. Come, wind, Holy Spirit, and blow fresh air through us, give us strength. We can’t come together, on the New Life land, to worship just yet. But in the meantime, we are prophets, and disciples. We are in the desert of Lent, and we are proclaiming, “Life is coming again, even out of death. New life is coming - hold on! Breathe. Live.”