Sermon March 29, 2020

Lamenting

Scripture Readings

Psalm 130

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord — my Lord, listen to my voice! Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! If you keep track of my sins, Lord — my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you — That is why you are honored. I hope, Lord. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise. My whole being waits for my Lord — more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning! Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because God has great power to rescue and redeem! God is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin.

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Ezekiel is one of the major prophets in the Hebrew Bible, what we often call the Old Testament. The book of Ezekiel follows Isaiah and Jeremiah and was written between 593 and 571 BCE. This morning’s reading comes from Ezekiel chapter 37 verses 1 to 14.

The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, God led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. God led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.

God asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?”

I said, “Lord God, only you know.”

God said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.”

I prophesied just as I was commanded. There was a great noise as I was prophesying, then a great quaking, and the bones came together, bone by bone. When I looked, suddenly there were sinews on them. The flesh appeared, and then they were covered over with skin. But there was still no breath in them.

God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.”

I prophesied just as God commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.

God said to me, “Human one, these bones are the entire house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished.’ So now, prophesy and say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel’s fertile land. You will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.”

Lamenting

Will you pray with me? Holy God,  we hope with our whole being. With our whole being, we wait for you. In this holy time, make yourself known to us. And now, may the words of my mouth speak of your power and proclaim your presence. May the thoughts of all of our hearts draw us ever nearer to you. For your love is faithful and with you is all the power to redeem. Amen.

God’s power overcame me. It swept through me, and there I was, the Lord’s spirit guiding me. God led me and set me down in the middle of a certain city, in a hospital room where doctors and nurses and ethicists speak, quietly sometimes. Loudly sometimes. Trying to decide whether to resuscitate patients with COVID-19. Trying to determine whether to attempt to save one life or protect a dozen. Weighing the good of one against the good of many. 

And then God led me outside the hospital to a refrigerator truck awaiting the bodies of the dead. 

And I saw that there were a great many of them. 

And the life had gone out of them. 

And I heard the wails of family members who could not hold them. 

And the exhausted, despairing sighs of doctors and nurses and health care workers who had done all they could. Or who were forced to make unthinkable choices.

I saw the weary, hunched shoulders of fire fighters and police officers and ambulance drivers.

God led me out and into apartments and townhomes and houses big and small, and I heard the anxious murmuring of people who have lost their jobs, wondering how they will pay their rent or purchase groceries or cover medical bills. 

I heard the weary snaps of parents impatient with the cries of their children who don’t understand, but who internalize the trauma none-the-less.

Through slightly open closet doors, I caught glimpses of prom dresses never to be worn, bought with hard earned pay saved from after-school jobs.

On blue screened computers, valedictorian speeches that will never be given. 

Wedding feasts and retirement parties canceled or indefinitely postponed.

Babies born without their dads or grandmas or aunties or doulas.

Elders dying alone, their loved ones not allowed in.

Doctors stripping on porches, refusing to hug their children until after they have showered. Some living in garages to protect their families from exposure. 

And God asked me, “Human one, can these bodies live again?”

“Human one, can these grieving ones be comforted?”

“Human one, can these weary, despairing ones find rest and renewal?”

“Human one, can such trauma be healed?” 

“Human one, can a society, indeed a world, so devastated be restored?”

This week, as I read this scripture again and again, it finally sank in. This is now. This is us. We are standing in a valley full of bones. And they are very dry. Friends, as I read this scripture again and again, God finally cracked open my spirit, and I found myself standing in the middle of the valley. Overcome. By grief.

Each of us has already lost something — a job, time alone, a reprieve from depression or anxiety, financial security, the ability to hug someone we love or to see a neighbor or to believe that all is right in the world. We have lost whatever rosy lens we might have been wearing that allowed us to not see ALL THE TIME the incredible inequities in our society. 

I grieve for the family stuck in their apartment without outdoor space for their children to play. I grieve for the elderly person, more isolated now than ever, wondering perhaps if their life will be valued enough to receive treatment if they get sick and our hospitals are overwhelmed. I grieve for doctors and nurses and chaplains who have to make unthinkable decisions about whether care for an individual or to protect a community. 

I grieve for the worker who does not get to stay home, but has to show up to work, to drive a truck, sell and bag groceries, clean our streets, collect the trash, deliver mail, or work in nursing homes and doctors’ offices and hospitals, risking exposure perhaps even endangering their family. 

Friends, as I read this scripture again and again, God finally cracked open my spirit. Here I am standing in the middle of the valley full of dry bones. 

And I am grieving. I am lamenting. 

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord—

God my God, listen to my voice!

    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!

[PAUSE]

My whole being hopes. I wait for God’s promise.

[PAUSE]

 

My whole being waits for my Lord—

    more than the night watch waits for morning. 

[PAUSE]

   Yes. More than the night watch waits for morning!

As we watch disease, despair, death and destruction wreak havoc on our lives, our communities and our world, there is cause for us to join with the Psalmist in Lament. [PAUSE] It takes courage to allow ourselves to be cracked open — to feel our own grief and loss and fear. And the only way through those emotions, the only way to keep them from being trapped in our bodies, in our spirits as trauma is to feel them, to move through them, to lament. To allow the tears to fall, the wails to escape, the grief to rack our bodies. 

But there is good news for us. As the Psalmist reveals — lament leads us to hope. Wait for the Lord! Because God’s love is faithful. Because God has great power to rescue and redeem!

When we open our spirits to lamentation’s emptiness, we make room for God’s questions: 

And God asked me, “Human one, can these bones live?”

“Can these grieving ones be comforted?”

“Can these weary, despairing ones find rest and renewal?”

“Can such trauma be healed?” 

“Can a society, indeed a world, so devastated be restored?”

“Can these bones live?”

[PAUSE] 

“Lord God, only you know. [PAUSE] Only you know.”

Then I heard God’s voice again. And God said, “Human one, prophesy. Prophesy to these bones, prophesy to the despair and death and destruction and say, Hear God’s word! Dry bones, God proclaims to you: I am about to put breath in you and you will live again. I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, when I put spirit into you and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.”

When Ezekiel prophesies, there comes a great noise. A great quaking and rattling, and the bones come together: bone by bone. And suddenly there are sinews on the bones. Then flesh appears and then they are covered over with skin. But still there is no breath.

So God instructs: “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy to the spirit, human one! Say to the breath, the Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.” 

Ezekiel prophesies just as God commands and when breath, when spirit, enters the bodies, they come to life and stand on their feet: an extraordinary company. 

When we open ourselves up to our grief, when we move through the reality of our lament, we make room for the miraculous good news of God’s proclamation: “I am opening up your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will restore you. And you will know that I am God.” 

So what does it mean for us to prophesy to the bones? What does it mean for us to proclaim God’s promise of restoration? Of life? Of resurrection? What does it mean on the Sunday before Palm Sunday? What does it mean as we look ahead toward Jerusalem and Holy Week. Towards the betrayal, torture, and execution of Jesus? What does it mean as we look ahead to an indefinite separation and quarantine? 

God’s command to Ezekiel, God’s invitation prophesy is an invitation to proclaim God’s restorative, redemptive power. To proclaim the power of LOVE. To proclaim the power of goodness. To proclaim the power of generosity and hope and faith and grace especially in the face of grief and fear, despair and destruction. 

It means that we speak LOVE. And, friends, this is already happening. Indeed, there is something fundamental to human nature that brings out the best of us, not the worst, in times of chaos and destruction. In her book, “A Paradise Built in Hell,” Rebecca Solnit describes the tremendous good that pours forth in response to tragedy and disaster. She reminds us — by drawing examples from responses to Hurricane Katrina, the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, the Tsunami, drought in north Africa, 9/11 — Solnit reminds us that in times of tragedy and disaster, so often, as individuals, we sink into our deeper natures of generosity, of loving kindness, of compassion and empathy, courage and love. As Mr Rogers puts it, the Helpers show up. We are somehow reminded, in the face of our own mortality, in the face of destruction, in the middle of a valley full of dry bones, that we are all in this together and that we are called to love first. And so we do. We do love. 

Prophesy to these bones. Speak love into destruction. Speak love into fear. Speak love into grief. Speak love in lament AND in hope. Prophesy to these bones. For God WILL breathe spirit and life into this situation. God WILL restore us. Whatever happens, whatever the timeline, whatever the losses, we can hold onto Julian of Norwich’s words: all WILL BE WELL. ALL MANNER OF THINGS WILL BE WELL. So Prophesy. Proclaim. Love. 

For God tells us: “You will know that I am the Lord your God. I have spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.” May it be so. Amen. 

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.


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