“Our bones are dry, our hope is gone, and we are doomed.”
These words spoken by the people of Israel in the prophet Ezekiel’s vision
could seamlessly substitute many a news headlines today.
Each day brings some frightening new executive order, some threat to democracy, some horrendous defacement of human dignity, appalling degradation of the earth.
I often find myself scrolling frantically through Twitter,
and ingesting as much news coverage as I can stomach,
in a frenzy to wrap my head around the myriad problems of our day.
In this reactionary, fear-based place in which so many of us find ourselves,
it is easy to get swept up into the chorus of harbingers of doom and gloom.
We may find ourselves saying,
Our bones are weary. Our hope is running out.
Our country seems hell-bent on pounding the last nail into our planet’s coffin.
I’ve been meditating to RNB singer Solange Knowles’ album A Seat at the Table, and her song, “Weary,” speaks to me in this place.
Be weary of the ways of the world
I’m weary of the ways of the world
Be leery ‘bout your place in the world
You’re feeling like you’re chasing the world
You’re leaving not a trace in the world
But you’re facing the world
It is exhausting, all of this keeping up with the world’s problems.
At the same time, I fear we are failing to tend to our souls,
the very thing that could actually transform the Earth Community.
Our readings today speak to us in the frenzy of our despair and hopelessness.
They don’t offer a panacea for our problems,
but they do offer a long view for our sacred resistance
and a glimpse of the kingdom that is both now and not-yet.
In this Lenten season and in this moment in history,
we find ourselves in the Valley of Dry Bones,
gazing out on the vast destruction of our sin-sick world.
We are here to come to terms with our own participation in this chaos;
we gather as a community to confess the ways in which we have been complicit in perpetuating violent, death-dealing systems that have crushed the bones of the most vulnerable members of our Earth community.
At the same time, we find ourselves standing outside a sealed tomb,
having suffered great loss.
Perhaps inside the tomb is a person we loved; a position that instilled us with a sense of purpose; a future we hoped for, or a dream we held dear.
We gaze blankly at the hard, cold stone between us and the life we expected to have, and we may wonder why God didn’t shown up as we expected.
In this space, where bones lay strewn across the sand
and our imagined future lies six feet under,
we may begin to believe more in the dryness of the bones and the finality of the tomb
than in the creative, redeeming, sustaining power of God.
This is exactly where the profiteers of death want us.
The death-dealing actions of the current administration are symptomatic
of what black feminist social critic bell hooks calls our culture’s worship of death.
It is particularly telling that this last week,
rather than developing a life-sustaining energy plan,
those in power insist on the continued extraction of fossil fuels.
They are so caught up in the worship of death
that they cannot see the potential for anything to be revived.
They are quite literally burning bones.
They don’t see how that which has been broken might be made whole.
They do not see how this Earth and all its creatures, so precious to their Creator,
might be renewed and restored to health and vitality.
Their imaginations are compromised.
We are, all of us, so accustomed to dealing with death,
so numbed by the constant bombardment of violence and suffering,
that it becomes difficult to imagine the story
— our own or that of the human family —
ending anything but tragically.
Like the friends of Lazarus,
we come with the good intentions of consoling the grieving,
because we believe ourselves to be waiting for a funeral.
The last thing we expect is resurrection.
Our brains can’t compute when Jesus says, “The sickness will not end in death.”
Even when we may be able to mentally assent to God’s restorative power,
We have been habituated to view life as the exception, not the rule.
Today, we are invited to recalibrate our imagination.
Jesus’ invites the sisters Mary and Martha to examine the beliefs they have held
and to choose confidence in his redeeming love over and above
their well-honed trust in the world as they know it:
“I am the Resurrection, and I am Life,” he says.
“Those who believe in me will live, even if they die;
and those who are alive and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
What Jesus offers is a radicalization of our spiritual imagination,
a total transformation of what we believe to be true about our world and how it works.
In these most absurd times, we are called to move from fatalism to faith.
Even now, the hand of God is piecing us back together: bone to bone,
sinew on bone, flesh covering bone, skin on flesh, and then,
the Spirit of God breathes into our souls.
The creative power to bring forth life in places that reek of death is characteristic of our God.
Recovering a spiritual imagination that allows God to be big enough, loving enough, creative enough to act in such restorative ways is necessary if we hope to be agents of justice and peace.
Priest and Creation Spirituality theologian Matthew Fox puts it this way:
“Without solid grounding in creation’s powers, we become bored, violent people. We become necrophiliacs in love with death and the powers and principalities of death.”
So how do we ground ourselves in creation’s powers?
We start by simply breathing.
Each sacred breath we inhale can be a YES to God’s creative power.
Each sacred breath we exhale, can be a NO to the forces of death.
Our sacred breath reminds us that the Spirit of God is alive in us, and that this same life-giving love pulsates through the universe, giving dignity to every member of the Earth community.
This breath empowers us to call out those violent systems that exploit and oppress,
and strengthens us to uphold and celebrate those people and communities that are using their power to create good.
Now, let me be clear:
this is not a call to embrace a sentimental, superficial optimism.
After all, we are in the middle of Lent: a season of waiting in the wilderness for the sudden in-breaking of God.
We ought to be realistic about how hard this is.
We have all, while grieving, been on the receiving end of entirely unhelpful advice and trite spiritualized cliches.
I don’t think today’s stories offer those.
The Raising of Lazarus and the vision of Ezekiel are stories for woke folk:
those of us whose eyes are wide open to the messy, painful reality of the human experience, we who are moved by the deep groans of the Earth and her creatures.
In the midst of grief and despair, these stories remind us how much God cares:
God is not the “unmoved mover.”
No! God is present to our pain.
Jesus goes on the journey to Bethany, knowing full well that his friend has died.
He moves toward the suffering, and in the thick of a funeral, he is moved to tears.
As people see Jesus weep for his friend, they say,
“See how much he loved him.”
Or as Sister Joan Chittister puts it,
“The measure of the pain grief gives us is the measure of the love we’ve had.”
Grief is part of living faithfully in this life
as creatures who are painfully aware of how far we are from Beloved Community.
Yet at the end of the day, it is not grief that will consume us, but love.
Our beating hearts will tremble in anticipation as Love draws near
and calls us by name to come out of the grave.
If we will let it, the creative power of Love can transform us into people who see potential and life in what seems hopeless and lifeless.
With divine inspiration, we can speak prophetically against the prophets of death, knowing that life will have the final say.
We can believe that even our most horrendous circumstances will be redeemed,
and that our world will be healed.
We can become people who expect resurrection.
We turn toward resurrection when major waterways in New Zealand and India are ascribed the same rights as human beings.
We turn toward resurrection when travel bans are overturned and Sanctuary cities and churches are established.
We turn toward resurrection when those who have been detained by ICE are released to their families.
We turn toward resurrection when we commit ourselves to praying with our feet by showing up in solidarity with the immigrant community here in our church community and in the city of Pasadena.
We turn toward resurrection when spring bursts into bloom after a season of cold, dry branches.
And as we turn toward resurrection, our chorus of doom and gloom can be transformed into a new song: “There is fire in these bones! We will keep hope alive! The Spirit of God will sustain us.” Amen.
This sermon on John 11:1-45 and Ezekiel 37:1-14 was preached by Lauren Grubaugh at the 7:30 a.m. service on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Lauren is a member of All Saints Church and a Postulant for Holy Orders — one of the steps toward ordination to the priesthood. We are grateful for the many ways her gifts for ministry have blessed us here at All Saints and look forward to continuing to travel with her as she moves forward on her vocational journey.