The lectionary passage from Ezekiel 37 is especially appropriate during this time.
“Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely” cried the bones Ezekiel 37:11. The Covid-19 situation is deteriorating – many people feel like they are cut off. We hear of the Italian army trucks called in to help transport coffins from Bergamo to other cities for cremation as the number of people who died from the virus exceed the capacity of the crematorium in Bergamo. We hear of people whose loved ones died in hospital, but they were not able to be by their side in the final moments, nor were they able to hold a funeral. They are not able to get the support they normally get from friends and family as people are locked down. They are “cut off.”
Some of us are cut off from our loved ones as well. Many of you have family and loved ones overseas. And this must be stressful times as we worry about each other’s well-being, and our own. Every time I hear a cough, a sneeze, I feel fear.
We are fortunate that the situation here in Singapore hasn’t escalated to levels like Italy, China or the US. And still, many of us are affected – many of you face uncertainties about your livelihoods, and it feels as though we are in the proverbial dark tunnel – just that we don’t see the light at the end yet.
Does the situation in your life look like a valley of dry bones right now?
Are you anxious or afraid?
While some of us are focused on the covid-19 virus, there are some of us who are struggling with other issues in their lives – and life does look like a valley of dry bones.
Breaking up, losing one’s job, losing a loved one, depression, wrestling with coming out.
I am very grateful for the prayer meeting that we had on Zoom on Wednesday. Kyn was wonderful on the steel tongue drum. 21 of us gathered in prayer – with folks all the way from the UK to Hong Kong to folks here in Singapore. It left me feeling less anxious and more centered.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.” John 14:27
God asks Ezekiel “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3) Ezekiel replies ““Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then God said to him, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
Do we believe that this situation will pass?
We trust that this pandemic will pass. This pandemic is going to be not just literal death, but also figurative death. The world as we know it is going to emerge from this pandemic very different. We realise how fragile everything is, and how easily everything can fall apart.
But what about those who are struggling with other issues?
These valleys of dry bones are often situations we find ourselves unable to resolve. We feel lost and hopeless. And what do we do to cope. Some of us turn to distractions. Some of us find ways to numb the pain. Some of us run as far away from the valley as possible.
Just like God bringing Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones, we need to face our own valleys for resurrection to happen.
Stop your busyness. Put aside those distractions.
God is asking you – can these bones live?
Is it about the situation in your family? Is it coming to terms with yourself – your health issues, your limitations, your weaknesses? Is it something that you are carrying all your life that has remained buried and unresolved? Is it about the disappointment in other people? Disappointment in yourself? Is it something you have yet forgiven someone? Is it about telling the truth that you have kept hidden for so long?
Can these bones live?
Like Ezekiel, we answer “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
I wonder if Ezekiel knew, but dare not answer “Yes!” I wonder if Ezekiel’s answer “You alone know” was an answer that lacked conviction. If we are confident that the pandemic will pass, then we should have faith that the situation we are wrestling with will pass too.
Resurrection, though, is not returning back to the way things were, as much as we would like it to be, but resurrection to new life. Things will be different.
When this is over, when resurrection happens to the world, how would it look like? How do we want it to look like? How do we think God wants this resurrection to look like?
Will we return to the old ways? Or we re-imagine how God wants this resurrection to look like?
When the tendons, and flesh and skin covered the bones, these bodies were still dead. If we return to the old ways, to business as usual, then we are still dead. It was only when God breathed into them, that they lived.
God is speaking to us and God is breathing into us a new spirit.
When we sing breathe on me, breath of God, breathe on me, are we ready for the transformation?
Are we ready to do the hard work of entering the valley of dry bones of our lives and allow God to breathe into those bones so there may be resurrection?
You may be afraid and want to keep those long-buried situations buried. You may want to keep avoiding as long as you can. Perhaps it is that difficult conversation to talk about something that needs forgiveness, or something needs to come to light, or restore a relationship that was broken.
God is asking “Can these bones live?” Do you believe that I can bring these bones from death to life? Do you believe in resurrection?
Don’t be too quick to say “Yes!”
Because if we do say yes, we say we believe that God is with us, and we belong to God. And then, we will have to back up our yes with action – and face our valleys of dry bones and say “The Lord says “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
And we come to life, not just for our own sake but for the sake of the world. We will not only live but come alive.
Are we going to be awaken so we live for God and join in the work to bring about the resurrection of the world?
Theologian Leonardo Boff wrote recently:
“The current coronavirus pandemic represents a unique opportunity for us to rethink our way of inhabiting the Common Home; the way we produce, consume and relate to nature. The time has come to question the virtues of the capitalist order: unlimited accumulation, competition, individualism, indifference towards the misery of millions of people, the downsizing of the State and the exaltation of the Wall Street motto: “greed is good”. What will save us now are not private companies but the State with its public health policies – always under the attack of the “free” market system – and also the virtues of the new paradigm: care, social solidarity, co-responsibility and compassion.””
Jesus healed, not based on who can afford it – but healed to reveal how the kingdom of God works.
I must give credit where credit is due – the Singapore Government is doing a very good job dealing with the Covid-19 virus and the supplementary budget. The government has, since the beginning, said that treatment for the Covid-19 virus would be covered by the government (with a few conditions). This is how it should be. Not based on who can afford it, who has more money….
Matthew 6:24 Jesus said “”No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Many of us today do not realise we are serving money and not God. Everything is done to keep the economy going. The threat of the virus is played down in some countries so that the stock market doesn’t crash – at the price of what? A few thousand lives?
Yet there is hope. There are many examples of CEOs who stepped up, made sacrifices and took care of their employees rather than firing them. There are those who are not using the employees as bargaining chips to lobby for a bailout.
God told Ezekiel “therefore prophesy and say to them “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil, then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.”
So may God’s spirit guide us – to reimagine how our lives and the world looks like under God’s reign.
When resurrection happens, we don’t return to how things used to be, but rather be awaken with God’s spirit alive in us, in our community, in our world.