You know how when you buy a particular model of car, suddenly that’s all you see on the road? There are not really any more of them, it’s just that your eyes are attuned to them.
I have been experiencing something similar with our focus on First Nations issues this Lent. I don’t know if there are more stories in the media, or I am simply more attuned to the them. Some of them inspire me, some of them anger me, many of them sadden me, some of them do all of those.
Just this past week I read of an incident in Thunder Bay where a trailer hitch was thrown from a car at 2 native women, who were walking. One of them was hit, and they heard the words “Got one!” as the car drove off. This woman may not live due to her injuries. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/trailer-hitch-injuries-1.4040247iti
‘Jesus wept’ is the shortest passage in the Bible. It may or may not be familiar to you. It comes from a long passage in the gospel of John, 45 verses! Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus is sick and they send Jesus a message asking him to come to Bethany in order to save him. For some unknown reason, Jesus doesn’t hurry to them, but waits for two days before travelling there. And of course, by the time he gets there, Lazarus is dead and has been in the tomb of 2 days.
And Jesus wept. Wept in sorrow? Wept in the loss of relationship? Wept in regret?
John’s gospel is full of signs and wonders and remember John’s gospel was written almost a century after Jesus’ death, not as it was happening. So it is full of metaphors and stories that help bring us into a deeper understanding of Jesus if we don’t look upon them as history. Too often we get hung up on the ‘facts’ of a story and ignore the truth of a story.
Perhaps Jesus was weeping because he was imagining Lazarus as one of the sets of dry bones as envisioned by Ezekiel. Whenever I read today’s passage from Ezekiel, I am reminded of the images that I have seen in books, magazines and TV of the concentration camps after the second world war. Now I also envision the estimated 6000 indigenous children that died in the residential school system. .
And Ezekiel’s question, “Can these bones live?” rings down through the ages, just as it did then. Valleys of dried, bleached, dead bones, as far as the eye could see. Death and destruction all around. Hopelessness and despair. Most of us have not seen that kind of devastation and hopefully will not have to.
But we have all experienced times of lifelessness, depression and discouragement. Both individually and as a community of faith. What are the dried, dead bones of our lives? Where do we feel empty and lifeless? Where are we thirsting for the living water of hope and new life? How are we going to let the wind of the Holy Spirit enter our lifelessness and live?
There are times in our lives that we feel overwhelmed, overburdened and overtired. Times when nothing seems like it is worth living for and we cannot find joy in any of the things we do or experience. I believe that feelings like these are part of being human. That dry bones feeling can be a sign of some deeper need, a sign that we have been neglecting an important part of who we are.
We may not express it in the way that Ezekiel did…. we may use terms like:
I feel like I am falling apart
I can’t seem to get my act together
I am so broken up over this (Joyce Rupp)
We can almost hear the dry bones of our life clattering together when we say these things.
Individually, it may be problems with a family member… or financial worries… or an old hurt that has resurfaced for unknown reasons… or a crisis of faith, when you are questioning God or God feels very far away. Whatever it is, that dry bones feeling is a signal that something is not right. And if you try and ignore it… through keeping yourself so busy you don’t have time to think… or drinking or drugs or my personal favourite, eating… you can avoid it… For a while… only a while…not permanently.
For us as a community of faith… our dry bones may be feeling as if society no longer values what we value… or you witness and experience behaviour in church that is less than Christ like.
We have to go down into that valley of dry bones and cry out. There may be a truth that is trying to break through, we need to stay with the experience and not run from it. We as humans avoid pain, but until we allow ourselves to feel pain, we cannot be open to the healing that is waiting for us.
Regina Coupar is a Nova Scotian artist, writer and theologian, she writes this: “Real comfort can only be felt be those who are able to receive it. Without grief we have no real need to be comforted. If our pain has been restricted to a surface level, our comfort will also be superficial. If we want to be truly comforted, we must admit our pain; physical, emotional and spiritual. When we mourn from the depths of our being, we open our wounds to receive healing. The deeper the wound, the greater the cavity created which is capable of holding God’s comfort.”
We have to be willing to look at the bare bones of what is causing us pain before we can receive the new life awaiting us. We need to experience pain and grief and loss and find the love that is still there in the midst of all that.
When I arrived here last January, you were a congregation in some turmoil, dispirited and lacking direction. Together we engaged in some processes to unbind ourselves from the past and its old patterns and open ourselves to the Holy Spirit blowing new life into us and bringing us together.
I love and value each and every one of you. But we have settled into a bit of complacency… I have provided some engaging worship and a faithful presence in the office and at fundraisers… and there is a bit of sense that there is no more work to be done. But, as you have heard me say, ‘the harder work of the interim ministry is just beginning.’
We made some big changes last week to our governance… we didn’t just rearrange the chairs… we have totally changed the way in which we will make decisions… a way that is based on the ongoing spiritual development of our elected leaders. It will be messy and chaotic for a while as we live into this new way and it also has the potential to be life changing and energizing as we unbind ourselves from that which would hold us back. But the news ways of making decisions can’t be made using the old methods… all of us need to reorient ourselves and commit ourselves to this new thing… Old habits die hard… anyone who has made any sort of change knows that, but old habits have to die and NOT be resurrected in order for new life to flourish. That is the blessing and the challenge of new ways.
Jesus weeps every time we chose death instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into dry, empty bones. Jesus weeps every time we allow injustice to flourish. Jesus weeps when we turn away from the joy and pain of new life. But Jesus also says to each one of us, “Come out!”
It’s our individual decision and it’s our collective decision. Do we come out into the light where that which shackles us is stripped away in the light of life? Or do we stay in the tomb of darkness. It’s our choice.
Listen to these words of blessing, written by Jan Richardson, it’s entitled Lazarus Blessing
of this blessing
is that it is written
on the back
of what binds you.
you must take hold
of the end
must begin to tug
at the edge
of what wraps
It may take long
for its length
to fall away,
for the words
of this blessing
about your feet.
you will no longer
By then this blessing
will have pressed itself
into your waking flesh,
will have passed
into your bones,
will have traveled
until it comes to rest
inside the chambers
of your heart
that beats to
and the cadence
Jan Richardson @ The Painted Prayer Book
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of hearing Jesus’s voice. Amen.
You can find the readings from Ezekiel 37: 1-14 & John 11 here.
April 3, 2017 – Riverview United Church Lent 5
The ‘dry bones’ section was inspired by a chapter in ‘May I Have This Dance’ by Joyce Rupp.