In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Readings for the day: Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45
Spend some time with both the readings before you read my thoughts…
Our reading from Ezekiel always makes my stomach churn, but probably not for the reason we may be thinking. One of the very first times I read in church when I was in my teens, I read this reading. The only problem was I was not expecting to read this reading. I had prepared to read a piece of Jeremiah at a late Saturday night vigil before the first communion at Easter. The church was in darkness, I had complete faith in the person organising the readings so went to the lectern without my version of the reading. When I got up there – it was not the reading I had prepared but this reading from Ezekiel, and in the King James Version – I can honestly say at the time I had never seen this reading! If I am going to read aloud in church I much prefer to have worked through the reading first for tricky phrases and where to breathe etc… The only thing to do was to take a deep breath and go for it. It wasn’t the best reading I have ever done, but somehow it all flowed and no-one else was any the wiser!
I have wondered after at my reaction to take a deep breath in, when the reading uses breath to indicate how God interacts with us. Ezekiel’s colourful vision, which has some nightmarish qualities, was given to help people in very difficult times. His people were in exile and hope was at a low ebb characterised by the very dry bones in the valley. In the vision, Ezekiel has to speak to the bones twice – first they are brought together to make bodies and then the second time to bring the breath of God that the bodies might live.
God says ‘I will put my spirit in you, and you shall live’. The resonances of better times to come on the horizon are obvious, pointing to a time when the exiled people will again experience restoration to their land and the rebuilding of the temple. And also pointing to the coming of Jesus bringing the breath of the Holy Spirit to all.
I have been finding during this tumultuous week resonances of this exile in our lives today. So much of what we take for granted has been stripped away from us – to living adhering to our Government’s current tag line, “Stay at home – protect the NHS – save lives”. Following the Government’s guidance is what we must as well as what we should do and shows significant love for our neighbours near and far. This also respects the very churchy language of ‘seeking the common good’. For a society used to doing what we want, when we want I think ‘exile’ probably comes close to the challenge.
Having said that as Christians we have hope, through the Holy Spirit’s presence, brought to us through the saving love of Jesus on the cross whether we are in ‘exile’ or not. As we read this on ‘Passion Sunday’, as the Lenten pace hots up Holy week and Easter are approaching rapidly, let’s remember God’s passionate love for us. Love that came down to earth at the first Christmas, love that sent his only son to save us through dying on the cross and rising again.
We see Jesus using God’s love in our gospel story to raise Lazarus. It is a long story and one well worth a concentrated read. What struck me afresh this week was how Jesus was ‘greatly disturbed and deeply moved’. Firstly, on meeting Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus had died and then again, when he came to the tomb. Jesus was as human as we are, and he walks with us through his spirit in our deeply emotional times. I can think of moments, as I suspect we all can, when I have been greatly disturbed and deeply moved by the events of this past few weeks. There is also the prospect of more and more to come. As I was saying last week we need to keep ourselves rooted in the hope Jesus won for us, and pray for the strength Martha showed for the days and weeks ahead.
Jesus said to her – ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die – Do you believe this’
She responded to him ‘Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world’.
So after a deep breath in, inspired by the Holy Spirit – Let our response be ‘Yes Lord – Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.’
Someone wiser than me put it like this “if our adventure in faith has taught us anything, it should be that, having loved us into life to begin with, God in Christ promises us nothing but love to the end – and beyond”.
Thank you, Lord, for your constant presence.
Thank you for holding us and comforting us.
Thank you for crying with us when we are hurting.
Thank you for weeping with us when we are broken-hearted.
Thank you, Lord, that you never let us down,
that you always give us hope.
God of new life,
we give you thanks and praise today. Amen.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
Prayer and final quote © Roots on the web
The picture is one I took in 1999 north of Auckland in New Zealand at a Christian conference centre.