Through the prophet Ezekiel, God promises life to a people cut off from everything they once knew. (Listen.)
The people were devastated. Family, friend and neighbour had been killed by an invading army. Bodies were abandoned, with no proper burial. Shops were shuttered; streets were emptied of life. Those who survived were in exile, and everything had changed. They could not worship in the usual places; they could not go to familiar shops or town squares; they no longer saw their friends.
The judicial system was a shadow of its former self; new rules and regulations governed everything. People’s lives were in tatters; the economy was shot; their culture was rocked to the core. They felt completely cut off. Cut off from their land; cut off from each other; cut off from God.
Sound familiar? This is Israel in the sixth century BCE: invaded by Babylon, taken into exile, and not really sure if they were dead or alive. It is to these devastated people – the living dead – that God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel. And what does God say?
- God remembers them, and will re-member them and put their lives back together.
- God sees their dryness, their desiccation, their living death, their despair, and God’s Word will fill them with vitality.
- God’s Spirit will be breathed into them and give them life.
- God will bring them home to the places and the land that they love.
We are facing a time of lockdown. It is a time when we cannot go to our usual places, be with our usual people, or worship in our usual ways. We will not be able to do many of the things which make our lives feel joyful, or meaningful. Our economy is in tatters; our culture is swiftly changing; we are being rocked to the core.
It is already hard, and it’s going to get harder. People will get sick, and some will die. People we know and love might be slain by the invisible army, the legion rampaging across the face of the earth. If they fall ill, we will not be able to visit; if they do not survive, it will be hard to say a proper goodbye, for funerals as we know them are banned. And as the economy collapses, all our social contracts will keep changing: work, healthcare, and the role of the state. We are entering a time of exile from life as we know it.
For many of us, it will feel like death. We will feel cut off: from one another, from our places, from God. We may wonder if God has forgotten us.
But through the prophet Ezekiel, God speaks words of reassurance, words of promise: God sees what is going on. Even as we are locked down, God remembers us and will stay with us through these times. God sees our dryness, our desiccation, our despair, yet God’s Word will fill us with vitality. God’s Spirit will give life; and God will guide us.
So I encourage you to take hold of these promises, and do three things:
Dwell in God’s Word: Take every opportunity to meditate on the Word, for God’s Word gives life even in the driest desert, even to the most desiccated bones. Pray in the morning, join midday prayers, join Shalom, do whatever you can to dwell richly in God’s Word: for it gives life.
Look to the future: Our individual bodies may be separate right now, and there is a sadness in that. Acknowledge that sadness; but look also with eager expectation to the future. For a time is coming when God will once again gather us up into one body, vibrantly alive in the Spirit: so look to that time with fierce hope.
Remember the Spirit: Remember that where there is wind, where there is breath, there is Spirit: and where there is Spirit, there is God’s life. Even as we retreat behind closed doors and everything is changed, there is still wind blowing through the treetops; there is still breath filling your lungs. Pay attention: breathe in, breathe out, and pray: for God’s peace will fill you and give life. Amen. Ω
A reflection on Ezekiel 37:1-14 given to Sanctuary, 8 March 2020 (Lent 5A) © Alison Sampson, 2020. Image credit: Unsplash.
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