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Up from the Grave

Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45, Excerpts from A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

Hello Community!!! I have so missed seeing you in person! I am sending love to you wherever you are! Thank you for trying new things and connecting in new ways and sharing your gifts, so that we can be church in this challenging time. Give a thumbs up if you have Zoomed or Facetimed or Youtubed or figured out Facebook Live or a new device or a new platform for the first time recently! How beautiful to remember that we can do new things and creatively carry on!

Since you are worshiping in your own environment, I invite you to craft this experience to your liking. If you wanted to grab some paper and something to write with and take notes you could do that. Or if you wanted to sit back and become more comfortable, I invite you to do that. I also invite you to take a worship selfie if you are so inclined.

As always, if you want to return to the words that I share this morning, you can find the full manuscript on the church website this week.

I invite you to join me in imagining the glorious faces you are missing and hold one another in prayer as we lift our hearts together.

Psalm 19:14, God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

We are living in a moment that surely defies our attempts at mental mapping- for we do not know how long. And we do not know how many. And we do not know what the world will look like on the other side.

But we know that this is where we are right now.

This is our- some kind of normal.

A dear friend of mine only somewhat joked that her new normal was to wake up early, read all of the news and then freak out. My mornings haven’t been too different than that. Another said they had taken to over-watching cable news, or crying for no particular reason- except the whole remaining in place because of a global pandemic thing.

It is clear that at this point, what many of us are engaged in right now is individual and collective grief.

At first we might have avoided what needed to happen to prepare for this moment and then there was collective confusion, along with individual, shock, forgetfulness and a fear so loud that’s all some of us could hear. And maybe that is where many of us will remain.Then there’s anger and anxiety, a struggle to find meaning which has meant blaming everyone from God to other countries for where we are. Then there is overwhelm and helplessness.

When we look at all of this together, it looks like what many of us are engaged in right now is the process of grieving. Some are intimately grieving the death of a loved one and the fact that in many places people are forced to die alone. Some of us are grieving financial security or what may be to come. Some of us are grieving a life we thought we knew- one that no longer exists and might not ever be the same way again.

As you know, our part of Christian tradition shares in the Revised Common Lectionary and the readings for this week are eerily spot on.The sacred text found in the book of Ezekiel, begins with God raising up the prophet and bringing him to “the middle of a valley that was full of dry bones.”

As James A. Wallace writes of these words in the book of Ezekiel, this “vision is given for people who have lost heart, who are suffering a death of the spirit, a living death in exile in a foreign land. Their temple had been destroyed, their holy city plundered, their leaders maimed or put in chains, their soldiers put to the swords…”

The people have lost heart, lost spirit, lost land. They are unmoored, and unsure how to live in this new reality.

And God then asks Ezekiel what he thinks might be possible in a landscape like this. Can these bones live? What from this valley will live?

In the story that you heard from the Gospel of John; Jesus is mourning because of the death of his friend Lazarus. In fact it hit Jesus so hard that it is one of only three places in all of Christian scripture that we have record of him crying. “Jesus wept.” This is one of our scriptures for this week. In a Valley of Dry Bones and death, God weeps with us. And our tears are not to be stopped. Rather they are a sign that we are still alive, that our hearts are still filled with hope and wild love…even here, even now.

While wildly different, with dramatically different historical, theological and religious contexts, I think both of these ancient and powerful stories point us to this hard truth: right here in the Valley of the Dry Bones, where we endure great loss, not able to gather in sacred spaces, to visit holy places, not able to hug our favorite faces, we must know that not all of what we love can be saved. This is why we weep.

This means it feels essential to let ourselves grieve- to acknowledge our individual and collective sadness, to let ourselves feel what we have lost and are losing, knowing we feel that it because of love- a zest for life and its shared rituals, a gratitude for in-person community and connection, so much of that suspended…

Among us, we have said goodbye to long planned for ceremonies of exams, dissertations, graduations and bachelorette parties, road races and trips that were dreamed of for years. Grief for the loss of school with friends and recess and group pictures and prom. Grief for the loss of messy card games around a table and loud dinners with friends. Grief for canceled music tours and March Madness and baseball. Grief for a loss of financial certainty, a loss of a job, a loss of healthcare, a loss of much needed clarity for a path in an election year. Grief for unraveled plans of all kinds.

C.S. Lewis wrote that “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”

This week it feels important to let ourselves acknowledge out loud that we are in a new landscape and for our own health and spiritual wholeness, perhaps we should also let ourselves grieve.

Sometimes apparently this landscape is like a long, winding valley of dry bones and sometimes this new landscape can feel like a tomb.

When Jesus arrives at the tomb where his friend Lazarus’ body was, he exhorts those with him to, “take away the stone.” And Lazarus emerges still wrapped in strips of cloth as Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.” It is a rich and long and layered teaching and this moment it feels a lot like God asking Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” What should live from this moment on? Which parts of what was do we want to say goodbye to and let go of? What from our old life needed to die? What does this Valley of Dry Bones have to teach us? What from this moment, what from these tombs do we now know for sure that we love more than anything?

When this Valley, when these tombs are behind us, how will we live? What will we cherish, as if our very dry bones have been breathed back to life? Will we use these bones to dance more or sing louder, to give more or worry less?

In the meantime, here we are, in this time set aside, in the days before we are up from the grave, the season before the stone is taken away, before we are unbound, here we are. It’s okay to weep. It means we are still here! It means we dare to love. And while right now, we might feel like we are in a Valley of Bones, dried up, with hope lost, feeling cut off completely, don’t forget that there are still stones yet to be rolled away, so let us use this time wisely. And let us not forget that God said to Ezekiel, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from your graves, I will bring you back!”

So when this Valley of Dry Bones, when these tombs are behind us, how will we live?

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