5th Lent 2020 in a Pandemic–Ezekiel 37:1-14

The writer of this text is Ezekiel, a prophet to Israel. Israel has wandered away from God’s word of grace and love for the neighbor. The text tells us that the people of Israel kept saying: ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is gone, and we are doomed.’ Ezekiel receives a vision from God to speak to the people of God. As I (you) read this text, see if you can imagine the scene. What do you see, how do you feel?

From Ezekiel:

“The hand of Yahweh  was upon me, and it carried me away by the Spirit of God. Yahweh and set me down in a valley—a valley full of bones. God made me walk up and down among them. And I saw that there was a vast number of bones lying there in the valley, and they were very dry. God asked me, “Mere mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “Only you know that, Sovereign God.” And God said, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: ‘Dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh!

Sovereign God says to these bones: I am going to breathe life into you. I will fasten sinews on you, clothe you with flesh, cover you with skin, and give you breath. And you will live; and you will know that I am Sovereign God.’ ”

So I prophesied as I was commanded, and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and all the bones came together, bone to matching bone. As I watched, sinews appeared on them, flesh clothed them, and skin covered them. But there was no breath in them.

Then God said to me, “Prophesy to the wind; prophesy, mere mortal, and say to it: ‘Thus says Sovereign God: Approach from the four winds, Breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’ ” I prophesied as I was commanded, and breath came into them; they came alive, and stood up on their feet—a vast multitude.

How did you feel as you heard these words. Did you see the desert filled with dry bones? Did hear them rattle as they stood up? Knit back together? Did you hear the wind as it swept in from the four corners of the earth? What did it sound like? Was is a gentle breeze or a loud rush or even a thundering wave? Did you see these bones come back to life? What did that sound like? Were they laughing, dancing, singing?

Does this scene speak to you today?

I always say that I am amazed when the lectionary texts speak directly to our day to day life. Today it seems even more powerful. We are living in a land of dry bones and the threat of death. While everything seems to be going on around us, the birds are singing, the earth is greening, the day and night continue in their rotation. Yet, we are threatened by death.

The Gospel text for this Sunday is also a powerful story. Of both death and life. It is the story of the raising of Lazarus.

Remember the story, Jesus is not with Mary and Martha, his good friends, when their brother Lazarus falls ill. So they call for him. They know Jesus as a healer and as a good friend.

But Jesus delays. And his disciples are astounded.

Remember, Jesus doesn’t have a lot of friends. He isn’t the most popular person in Israel. He, like Ezekiel, is a prophet and he doesn’t always say things that are easy to hear.

So when his friends call him to come, you would think he would run to their side, immediately.

But Jesus delays. And Lazarus dies. And not only does Lazarus die, he is buried. Jesus arrives three days later. Mary and Martha are glad to see him, but also confused. Don’t you love us Jesus? Don’t you care about us? If you had been here our brother, your friend, would still be alive

On Wednesday, church leaders led by the Pope, encouraged people to pray the Lord’s Prayer at noon. It was to be a prayer that would invoke God to intervene and stop the spread of the virus. I invited you all to join in, to pray that God’s kindom would come on earth. That God’s power would pour out and heal our land. For some of us that moment felt like a great weight was lifted off our shoulders for just a moment. A day later we got the word to stay at home. To stop the spread of the virus.

Coincidence? Or God’s work through the powers that be?

Would I have rather have woken up to the news that the virus was gone, completely? Of course, I would have.

But, I am thankful for this answer to prayer. We are safely in our homes caring for our neighbors and ourselves.

And God is with us, in the grave as it were.

I know on some days it won’t feel like it. When the kids are squabbling or not doing their school work or you are concerned about the bills, or whether that cough is something to worry about…when you can’t sleep at night.

I know it doesn’t feel like God is there. Even, so God is here.

This story of the dry bones and the raising of Lazarus tells us just this thing that we need to hear right now: God is with us in the grave.

Dry bones can live again and Lazarus’ can be raised from the dead.

Because this is what happened to Lazarus, Jesus walked over to his tomb, had the stone taken away from the door, called out his name: Lazarus come out! And Lazarus walked out of that grave with his grave cloths wrapped around him.

And Jesus said, get those grave cloths off him. Let him live. Let him dance. Let him sing.

In a few weeks we will be able to take off the grave cloths and feel a resurrection.

The year it won’t be on Easter Sunday. Which will feel very strange.

But when we do get together again for worship, when our stores do open up for business, when we can get in our cars and travel wherever we want to, we will know what Lazarus and those dry old bones felt like.

Will we dance? Will we sing? Will it feel like the wind of God has swept over the land from the four corners of the earth? Let’s pay attention and see.