Year A; Lent 5; 3.29.2020, Morning Prayer in a Time of Pandemic
Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45
Well! There are no two better stories of death and recovery in all of Scripture!…bones deader than dead in Ezekiel’s dry bones vision and Jesus raising his good friend Lazarus from the dead. All is seemingly lost. “Our hope is lost” say the exiled Jews to the Lord. Jesus wept in grief at the tomb of Lazarus.
Well…There is one more story of death and recovery! The best story of them all. God raising Jesus from the dead; the story of the Resurrection. Easter, the day we will shout out to each other, “Alleluia! He is risen!” “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!”
I do not think it is premature given the circumstances we are faced with as a community, to jump briefly to Easter and shout our “alleluias” in order to stand bravely with our defiant “alleluia” voices facing into the viral storm shouting, “Darn you, virus! Alleluia, he is risen!”
Right now, frankly, I’m a little tired of being told, “No.” So don’t tell me that I can’t shout “alleluia” in Lent. Being told “no” is very hard for me, for us, for Americans. We thrive on agency, action, good works and influencing decision-makers to say “yes” just this once…
But we are faced with: “No, you can’t go be with people. No, you can’t have worship in the building. No, you can’t visit the lonely. No, you can’t have a funeral. No, you can’t travel. No you can’t hug and kiss your dear friends…NO YOU CAN’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!”
I have heard your complaints about “NO” worship. And I complain with you. We long to get back to church and worship together. We are horrified and indeed a little bit angry that we can’t have our palms. We can’t make a procession around the corner into the church on Palm Sunday. Remember how we did that last year, joyfully entering the newly restored Nave for the first time? It was a glorious and poignant day.
Now, we livestream Facebook Sunday Morning Prayer from here, my dining room made into a chapel.
For more than three weeks we have been “distancing” in safety to help slow down the assent of this pandemic threat that is marching, marching, marching toward us. A deadly, contagious virus that has swept across the globe and landed in this country. It has literally “taken our breath away,” so much so that our hospitals do not have enough ventilators to bring the breath back.
Ventilators: “Machine[s] that provide mechanical ventilation by moving breathable air into and out of the lungs, to deliver breaths to a patient who is physically unable to breathe…” (Wikipedia) We are desperate to have enough breath-giving machines because the virulence of this virus robs patients of their breath.
And breath is life. In the story of the prophet Ezekiel, the dry, desiccated bones have come together, ligaments, muscles, even skin have brought the bones into recognizable bodies. Still, they lacked life. And so, the LORD brought the breath from the four winds, a sign and symbol of life – in Hebrew, ruach. Ruach is the same breath/wind that hovered over the waters in the Beginning. It is the same ruach, breath that made the first man come alive. It is the same breath that Jesus brought forth to raise Lazarus from the dead.
‘This breath moves through the world, raising people into new life, when all the odds are against it.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Lent 5, Theological Perspective) It’s the breath of hope that God gives to the exiled Jews, deported from their homeland into Babylon. It’s the breath of hope that they will be raised. That life has not ended. That despite all appearances, God’s hand and breath are at the center of death and loss and despair.
They cried, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”
Don’t we all feel cut off completely today? Parents are cut off from work, at home trying desperately to teach their kids and balance any sense of family normalcy. Hourly wage workers are cut off from their paychecks as they are laid off because their businesses closed. Healthcare workers on the frontline of this virus tell of their being cut off from their families as they have to quarantine themselves from their own families. I received an email from a parishioner who is stranded in Portugal, a closed border, cut off from her homeland.
Our elders are not allowed to have visitors, and loved ones have to stand at the window outside in order to see their loved one. I am cut off from tending to dying parishioners at the bedside.
And we are exiled from Christ’s Sacrament. We are cut off from the very life-giving food that strengthens us and readies us as God’s people for the coming week. “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed, says the Lord….Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood dwell in me and I in them.” If we truly believe that, and receive weekly nourishment from the gathered community and the Sacrament of food Jesus gives us to renew us, we have reason to lament and cry out for our Lord.
But the people of God are never in exile for ever. We are never dried up for ever. We will never be apart from each other for ever. God is a God of restoration, renewal, repair, resurrection. God just won’t stand for breathlessness and death for ever.
In this terrible pandemic much has changed in the world permanently. But we are not alone and God is constantly revealing new life and new opportunities to us. During this time of trial, I have felt many unnecessary tasks and obsessions fall away.
I don’t miss them.
Honestly, I’m too busy adapting to new challenges every day! The irony is that, as busy and worried as I am about so much coming at me each day, God has somehow come into more clear relief to me. And I’ve become curious about what new things God’s is revealing to me.
We have an opportunity to make a new assessment of what God is up to in our lives. “What is God trying to reveal to us? What habits and resistant behaviors is God calling into question in our lives? What new and life-giving breath is God giving to us today?
In these uncomfortable and worrisome days, we don’t know how long we will be “distancing” in a kind of exile. We don’t know what the course of the disease will be in our towns. But God is alive and well, a Holy Ventilator, ready to breathe new life into us no matter the circumstances.
I wonder: What life-giving revelation is God setting before us?