March 29th sermon from Father Mark Evans of Trinity Episcopal Church in Lincoln

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Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
Death, danger and despair are everywhere it seems. We are riveted by reports of increasing cases of sickness, chaos and uncertainty. The news from New York City, Seattle and Chicago seems closer and more pertinent than that from Bloomington or Springfield. The coronavirus has halted business as usual. Millions are out of work with no idea for how long. Some are wondering if the measures to stop the viral spread will be worse than the disease itself. Death, danger and despair are front and center in our readings this morning. Ezekiel is shown a valley littered with dry bones. Not just a few but so many they are uncountable. So many bleached and dry bones meant the bodies were left to rot in the sun and mutilated by animal scavengers. Jewish funerals called for bodies to be buried reverently either in a tomb or a dug grave. A massive boneyard is a sickening and abhorrent affront to what is right. Those who died are anonymous and unremembered. In this valley, death is pervasive and all encompassing. St. Paul equates flesh with death. In this time when a hug or a handshake is considered dangerous this imagery is potent. A cough or a sneeze ignites fear. We guard against physical contact lest we cause illness or receive it. The members of the church are scattered because our flesh makes us afraid. Finally, the land of Judea means death for Jesus. The town of Bethany, where Mary, Martha and Lazarus kept their home, is only two miles from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the seat of power. Jesus has openly and scathingly denounced the powerful and they seek their revenge. In the countryside, Jesus is protected, the powers that be cannot harm him there lest the people rise up in revolt. In Jerusalem though, Jesus is vulnerable. His disciples know it too. At first, they try to dissuade him from leaving safety but seeing his resolve, they agree to travel with him. Death, danger and despair are the watchwords of the day. But look at two other texts we have today. Psalm 130 starts with a plea from out of the depths to the Lord. We understand the depths to be death, danger and despair. But the one crying out is full of hope, even certainty, that the Lord will hear his voice and come to his aid. I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope. The crier seeks more than mere comfort in his affliction. He states that in the Lord, there is plenteous redemption. Redemption is restoration and it is abundant and extravagant. The Collect I read earlier seems to be written for just this time with its language of swift and varied changes of the world. Yet it too does not stop there, it petitions God to rework our unruly wills and affections, to grant us the grace needed to do his will and to point us toward Jesus Christ who is the true joy of life. Itís full of hope.

 

Ezekiel watched as the process of decomposition was reversed, like a rewinding movie. Bones came together in the right order, then sinews joined them and flesh covered that and skin made the bodies restored. Then God gave his breath to the bodies and they lived! They were redeemed! That breath of God is the Spirit that Paul commends to us. Paul is not teaching that our bodies are bad, just that the desires of the body are incomplete and ultimately unfulfilling. We need the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, to be fully alive. There is our hope. Jesus raised Lazarus from a four-day death to the amazement of all who witnessed it. Many people believed that he was the Son of God by this act. But that act ultimately led to the arrest, torture and death of Jesus at the hands of his enemies on the cross. Three days later, the breath of God raised Jesus from the dead but not like Lazarus who would perish again but with a resurrected body that was forever immune to the power of death. By retelling these stories am I expecting that the breath of God will render the coronavirus inert? No, I donít expect that. Am I telling you that the bodies of true Christians are immune to infection? No, I do not believe that is true either. What I am saying though is that the power of death, danger and despair is not the last word. God works through modern technology and medical science. There is a very good chance that a vaccine will be found Ė not next week Ė but our lives will not be like this forever. God works through acts of kindness. This week I plan to write some checks for gift cards to a few of the small restaurants in Lincoln. It will help them make payroll for a little longer. I have been calling priests in the diocese and the most isolated members of Trinity so they know that we continue to be connected even while we are physically separated. I know many of you have done similar things. We do these because we are resurrection people, not death, danger and despair people. We see hope and redemption where the rest of the world sees dry bones. We see a path forward through the danger because we know there is life on the other side. We inhale deeply of the breath of God because that is the source of all joy. Letís be disciples of the One who died and rose again for us. Dark times need rays of light. Amen

 

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