Ezekiel 36:24-28, John 17:1-11
In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
The reading we had from Ezekiel today – with its promise of new hearts and better times, comes from a time of deepest despair amongst the people of God. They had witnessed destruction of the temple and their homeland, and deportation to live in a strange land. These words from God came towards the end of the time that the people of God had been in exile (which was around 50 years in duration so several generations had passed). It reflects how the well known psalm puts it (and in the version made famous by Boney M).
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion. There the wicked carried us away in captivity, required from us a song. Now how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
The people of God had learnt to sing to the Lord in their uncomfortable present. They found a way to stay faithful and connected to God’s way in all the circumstances they found themselves in. As time passed a series of new imaginative poetic voices emerged and our Ezekiel reading reflects one of these. They took their loss with deep seriousness, but wisely began to reinterpret their faith to turn to hope for the future. A future where God would in response to their faithfulness restored them to their lands, and to their homelands – which indeed as time went on came to pass.
The kind of hope they had was not a vague optimism or a generic good idea about the future, but a precise and concrete confidence in and expectation for the future that is rooted explicitly in God’s promises to Israel. Much of the understanding is of God and his people in a process of promise making and promise keeping. At this time, God is speaking to the people and saying God will once again give land to the people of God, first given to their ancestors.
But this passage has deeper truths embedded in it. When we look at it there is a proclamation of forgiveness in it – where it says – I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. There is a hint of things we know are important in the means of this through the waters of baptism. There has to be a new way to prevent the repetition of the problems the people of God had had in their journey, following God’s promise and way and then falling away again and again.
There is a bigger truth of this sort in the next verse. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. Though this may have felt different at the time, we cannot but read this as meaning the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new way through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It is interesting that he uses the word heart – this would have meant the centre of intelligence for the people of God, rather than our use of the word heart to mean the centre of love for us today. This was the change that God was working to move to responses based on love, and our understanding of being led by love is very much at the centre of understanding the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. This is the new Spirit Jesus has left with us which takes our relationship with God far and away beyond the experiences of the times of the people of God in Ezekiel. We need to acknowledge the wonder and awe in this, that God opened his heart of love to us through Jesus.
The next verse takes us deeper still – and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. The hearts of stone refer to the need to remake our human nature (that God did in and through Jesus). Doing a makeover of the stoney and hard reactions the people of God had had repeatedly to God’s will for them. The hearts of flesh is about hearts open to God’s spirit and governed by love. Meaning we can feel God’s presence and be evident in our loving. This leaves us open to feeling it when the going gets tough, but allows God in more deeply, in a new way and powerfully – if we open our hearts to his Spirit and guidance for us. But also gives us glimpses and sometimes more than glimpses of the God who loves each and everyone of us his special children, in this world and the next. This sense of God’s care is also in the words of Jesus as he prays All are yours and yours are mine.
Today let’s pause and reflect and give thanks for the presence of God with us through his Spirit, and our fleshy hearts. Are we open to God’s will for us and his way for us? To God’s directing and guidance. Can we be more open and more fleshy in our of hearts of love to those around us? Can we be more thankful and wonder at the presence of God with us?
I am going to end with a silence to ponder these things in our fleshy hearts and then a prayer
Let us pray
Lord Jesus, by your ascension you left our world,
but you did not abandon us.
You promised the Spirit –
who comes to us and makes a home within us,
a home in our hearts of flesh,
who reminds us of you,
who guides and protects us
and surrounds us with God’s love.
Help us to be aware of your presence today.
Help us to follow your way of love wholeheartedly where it may lead us. Amen.
The new revised standard version of the Bible © 1989, 1995
reverberations of faith – Walter Bruggeman, Word Biblical Commentary Ezekiel 20-48- Leslie C. Allen.
Prayer reproduced with permission and adapted from www.rootsontheweb.com ©