Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, April 06, 2014
[Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45]
Ezekiel 37:1-14, one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible, lays bare the stark details of death, like a Gray’s Anatomy show. If you “google” the story, you’ll find 80,000 references, which include drawings, paintings and illustrations which go as far back as the 3rd century.
The human bones lay in a valley, very dry and desiccated, fully dead, with no vestiges of bone marrow or sinews to hold the detached bones together. The Spirit of God brings Ezekiel to this desolate valley of slain Israelites and asks Ezekiel to speak to the bones.
God asks Ezekiel: “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel wisely answers: “Oh, Lord God, you know.” With little hesitation God replies:
“Prophesy to these bones and say: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, bones!”
God will cause breath to enter you and you shall live (vs. 5). God 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 (vs. 6).
As soon as Ezekiel had spoken, there was a loud rattling noise… of bones coming together…bumping into each other…bone on bone…sinews and flesh began to appear… but still there was no breath in them.
God asked Ezekiel to prophesy to the four winds, calling the breath to enter the slain bodies… which stood on their feet in vast multitudes.
Ezekiel’s vision was a prophecy about Israel, scattered and conquered. Just as their bones were dried up, they were cut off completely from the land God had promised them. Through Ezekiel God promises to open their graves and bring them back to their own soil. God promises to restore their lives by breathing his Spirit into them and giving them life.
The word for “breath” in Hebrew is “ruach” – which is the same word for wind and for Spirit. Life is in the “breath” – or in the Spirit. If you have ever sat with someone who is near death, the breath becomes shallow… and intermittent… and eventually ceases. Sometimes it is a very quiet process, but when the breath stops, a person dies.
The bones God revives in Ezekiel were LONG dead, the breath was LONG gone from them and yet God chose to bring them back to life. Reconstituting a body long after it has decomposed is a miracle, but that’s what God promises.
In Ezekiel, this is a vision God gives concerning the people of Israel… and serves equally well as a vision for us. What aspect of your life feels like “dry, dead bones” beyond hope or restoration? What can we LEARN in these dry, desolate and parched times of our lives? Have you given up on a dream? Have you given up on your own health? Have you given up on a relationship gone bad? Have you given up on faith, because of unanswered prayers? Have you given up on the church as a place where healing can take place? Is there a dead place in your heart that you protect and disguise so that no one can get near it? If so, Ezekiel is calling breath, wind, Spirit from four directions…to ENTER that place in you.
Today’s stories from the Bible meet us in our desolate places, our weeping places, where we turn out the lights and close the doors, so that no one, not even God can enter. These are locked down, sealed places in our hearts, which we avoid at all cost, because we hurt whenever we enter them.
Before jumping to the “good part” – the bone-clattering, sinew and flesh gathering part of Ezekiel’s story I invite you to linger in the valley with me, and see what we can learn. We are going to do this by lingering with Mary and Martha in Bethany after their brother dies in our Gospel lesson.
You see Mary and Martha were good friends of Jesus and had sent urgent messages for Jesus to come BEFORE Lazarus died, but he didn’t. He remained where he was and didn’t hurry to their aid.
When he and the disciples finally made it to Bethany, near Jerusalem, Lazarus had been dead and in his tomb for 4 days. A number of Jews had come to grieve with them over Lazarus’ passing. Martha met Jesus on the road and was the first to see him. She lamented that Jesus had not come sooner, for she was absolutely SURE he could have healed Lazarus. When Jesus told her he was the “resurrection and the life” – Martha said, “Yes, Lord, I know that he will rise on the last day.” She went to summon Mary out of the house where she was grieving.
Like Martha, Mary said that she was so sorry Jesus did not arrive in time. When Jesus saw her and the other Jews weeping, his spirit was deeply disturbed and he too began to weep. The Jews marveled saying: “See how Jesus loved this man.”
Sisters and brothers, I want to linger in this weeping place today. Truthfully, this is where Jesus meets all of us. Where is that place for you? Mary and Martha KNEW… and believed with all of their hearts that if Jesus had been there earlier Lazarus would not have died. But Jesus was late. He missed it. Lazarus died and his body was already decomposing and the breath, the spirit had departed from him.
Has Jesus arrived too late for you…too late for one of your family members…too late to prevent a tragedy of great proportion in your family or community? You are glad to see him… but it’s too late to fix or change your circumstances. Your heart is breaking and you are sobbing inside and it hurts so deeply it is hard to get your breath.
And when Jesus arrives…he weeps with you. He feels your pain at the deepest level… right where you feel it. And he sobs with you. And those who share your pain marvel: Look how Jesus loved Lazarus. Look how Jesus loves YOU.
That is when Jesus, still greatly disturbed, asks Mary and Martha to take him to Lazarus’ tomb. Then, of all things, Jesus asks them to remove the stone from the front of the cave where he was buried. Martha cautions Jesus: “There will be a stench… a horrible smell of death in that cave…” And Jesus says to you this morning. Take me to the tomb in your life and roll away the stone. But you also resist. Lord, if I roll away the stone that covers my pain, it stinks in there. I haven’t gone there in so many years…
And Jesus says to you: “Did I not tell you, if you believe in me, you will see my glory?” Apparently we will only see God’s glory… if we are willing to roll the stone away to uncover the stench we have buried in our lives. The stench of death lingers after a bitter divorce. Sometimes the death of a loved one: a parent, a spouse, a child or close friend has left a hole which can never be filled or healed. Thus we bury a part of ourselves with them in that grave.
But Jesus tells us to roll away the stone…can we dare to do that? Jesus then speaks to his Father in heaven, saying: “Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me, but I am saying this so that everyone listening may also believe.”
Then Jesus says: “Lazarus come out.” Jesus likewise says to you this morning: “Come out of that grave, that part of you which has been long buried, long suppressed and long grieved.”
Let us enter a period of silence. If you are comfortable, I invite you to close your eyes with me and be with Jesus. Listen to what is happening inside you. Be with yourself… and be with Jesus in the graveyard.
If this community is safe for you, the dead parts of yourself are invited to come out and receive God’s healing. Jesus invites the rest of the community to help unbind you, as Lazarus’ community took off the strips of cloth which were wound around his hands, feet and face.
At this point… Jesus, like Ezekiel, invites you to BREATHE. Inhale slowly a cleansing breath and send that breath all the way down to your toes… then exhale from your toes… slowly, following the breath back out your nose. Inhale again, feeling the Spirit of God enter through your nostrils, filling your lungs and then exhale letting go of pain, letting go of stress. Continue to breathe slowly and intentionally and visualize God’s Spirit sweeping through you, collecting the waste, the tears, the brokenness. Then breathe out, letting go of all that is not love and not God. Continue to breathe in and out, slowly and intentionally… inhaling God’s Spirit, exhaling all that is not of God.
Sisters and brothers, this is a holy moment and a healing moment. It is your moment. Let us pray. Lord, can these bones live? Can we live as a community? You know. You have called the breath, the four winds, your Spirit into us. Show us, Lord the miracle of being resuscitated, revived and resurrected. We wait for you to come. We believe, please help our unbelief. Call us out. Unbind us. Let us live. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.