Thank you to Stephen and Bryan Spencer for sharing the gift of music with us this week, including a new song Stephen has just written, Grounded in You. Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection based on the scripture for this week, as well as Andy’s pastoral prayers.
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Lent 5: Breathing Life Into Dry Bones
Scripture: Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Music: Grounded in You, Companions on the Journey, Don’t Be Afraid (MV 90)
I can’t imagine anything deader than a valley of dry bones. It is a bizarre image and sounds more like something from Star Trek rather than Scripture. In those days, the people Israel were desperate; their land was occupied, their leaders in exile. It seemed like God had abandoned them.
Then God leads Ezekiel into the valley filled with dry bones and asks, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel looks around and seeing only death says, “Only you know.” God responds, “Prophesy to the bones, mortal! Prophesy!” So he does. And the bones start coming together, bone on bone. I can almost hear them. Then the bones are covered with flesh. Then they are standing – but there is no life.
So, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy again, and Ezekiel calls on the four winds and suddenly they are filled with breath – with the Spirit of God. Then God says, “Mortal, these bones are the whole of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely. We are done…”.
Does this sound like the time we are in; are we in a valley filled with dry bones?
Today, there seems to be a tremendous amount of what Sue and I call, “free floating anxiety”. People are worried. Will this virus get someone I love? Will it get me? Will I have enough money? Will I be able to look after my family? Will my kids go back to school? Some clergy friends are wondering if their churches will survive financially. It seems for many as if, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost. We are cut off completely.”
This is a time filled with what David Kessler calls, “anticipatory grief.” We don’t know what the future will be like and we know it will be different. We are worried and fearful – just like the people in Ezekiel’s time. But listen again to what God says, “I will put my spirit within you and you will live. You will be restored.”
In uncertain times we wonder, “Is God with us?” Then we remember… God was with the people during Ezekiel’s time, God was with the friends who stood by Jesus on Good Friday, God was with the people throughout the plagues and pandemics; the wars and economic collapses.
Throughout the ages, we have come to realize, we are not alone, God is with us and never abandons us.
In a valley filled with dry bones, God promised that all would be restored. As it was then – so it is now – for God is still speaking.
Tomorrow will not be the same – but God will be there as a source of strength and comfort. God will sustain us and offer us a vision for the future. For me, today is sort of like Bruce Cockburn’s song, “One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall, the next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all.”
I believe that God is calling us, as God did with Ezekiel, to prophesy… When things return to a time when we are no longer physically distancing: may we move even deeper into a time of social solidarity; to care for one another as we never have before, to see the wonder of life and be dazzled by the beauty of it all, to set aside what divides us and build trust between us. To offer each other what God offers us; support, strength and love – enough for the day – and hope for tomorrow.
May God be with you on this day and in all of the days to come.
God of Peace, who keeps vigil with us during our time of need, help us to feel your reassuring presence now. In this dry valley of sickness and fear, may your loving Spirit refresh like water. We give you thanks for this time together – in prayer, in silence, in song – this oasis for our souls.
God of mercy, we pray for our friends and family. Our prayer is a simple one: may they be well. Where there is anxiety, may you bring calm. Where there is fear, love. Where there is despair, hope. May we, as people of mercy, do what we can, with what we have, where we are. May we reach out to those who are lonely, and in the face of our loneliness, reach out again.
Together, we give voice to the grief we feel, as we mourn the life we planned and intended for these months. And then, with you, God of the desert, God of Life and Love, we breathe. And breathe again. And in this moment of stillness, we recall your saving grace through the ages and the wider horizon of your promise of restoration, and a just peace for all people.
We remember the countless thousands of people here, and the many millions of your beloved people around the world, working to keep us anchored and safe: toiling in labs and hospital rooms, in government offices and service centres, in care homes and delivery warehouses, in grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations. Each one a prayer and, for someone, a prayer answered.
And having remembered, and given thanks, let us renew our courage and with the saints of every time and place to proclaim our faith that these bones will live, that this valley will be lifted up, by the life-giving breath of your loving Spirit, O God.
Guide us, heal us, restore us, God of Love. We pray these things in the words that Jesus taught us, Our Father…