I hope and pray you are all doing well, as well as you can be.
There is an article going around facebook, at least in my circles, and yes I’m probably spending too much time on facebook lately, but some of it is good. And it points out that that strange sensation we are all feeling, is grief. That ache in your bones, that anxiety, having your emotions boil over at strange moments.
We have to give up knowing what tomorrow will bring, and we are grieving that With a natural disaster, you can see the radar of the storm coming, or hear the reports of how contained the fire is. Even with a war, and I hate war, but with the trauma that is war, you can make a strategy and align with allies and have a clear sense of when it is over. We have an ongoing, not knowing with this virus, it is invisible but bringing awful consequences. This is a different kind of crisis than we are used to. There is so much we do not know, it brings a new kind of anxiety and a new kind of grief.
So these readings for today speak so well to what we are all going through. Starting with Psalm 130, which is a psalm of lament. We like to quote the psalms that are happy praise songs to God, the ones that talk about our life of faith from different ways, but we don’t often talk about some of these psalms of lament, where the psalmist cries out to God, blames God, implores God to do something! Psalm 130 starts out, out of the depths I cry to you O lord. That does not sound happy. Hear my cry, what is the person crying about? By the end of the psalm there is a different tone, but let us just first sit in verses 1-2, not rush to the end.
What we can learn from this psalm, and others like it, are the importance of Speaking what is on our heart to God. To not try to pretend that everything is ok, when it’s not. Almost a third of the psalms can fit into this category of lament, there is a whole book of the Bible Lamentations, where the point is, to just put into words the pain that we feel. We’ll come back to the psalm but let’s jump to Ezekiel 37 1-14.
Here also, we start in a place of pain, of mourning, God puts the prophet in a valley full of dry bones. And the prophet Ezekiel is led to walk around, back and forth among a great man very dry bones. In other words, God has Ezekiel look at it. Take it in. don’t ignore, try to deny, the painful hard situation.
Then God says, can these bones live? And Ezekiel says, O Lord, you alone know. It occurred to me that this is the ancient way of saying, I don’t know. How could Ezekiel imagine that bones could live? It seemed impossible- but God suggested it, so maybe- so he just recognizes, he doesn’t know, O Lord You know.
I think this is good for us to hold onto- we can look around, really see the devastation, and say, I don’t know what is supposed to happen next God- but you do. You know.
And then jumping to John 11, this beloved story of Lazarus being rasied from the dead, Jesus goes into a place that is dangerous to him, to be with his friends. He takes awhile to get there. Does he let Lazarus die on purpose? It isn’t totally clear- but when Jesus does get to Bethany and finds that Lazarus has died- Jesus weeps. Although he knows what he is going to do, he doesn’t go immediately to the “solution” he just acknowledges and participates in grief and mourning his friend.
What we are going through as a nation, really as a world, is a kind of grief. Yes directly for those who have passed in an untimely way, yes also for losing life as we knew it, we have lost fun with each other, connection, regular work, even worshiping together: things that give meaning and purpose to life, for the survival of more people. There’s also that feeling of dread that we know more bad stuff is going to happen. It’s a kind of spread around death, that’s affecting all of us, even while all we are doing-staying home, social distancing, is in the interest of staying alive!
Too often we make faith fit into a mold of blind optimism. It will all work out. God is good. God has a plan. These things are true! But so is the real suffering we are in right now.
Some moments for me when I have really been grieving, have been Hearing about those who have already passed from Covid-19, thinking about how they can’t even have a real funeral, can’t gather together. That is real loss, causes sadness.
Or Thinking about countries with so few resources, overcrowded places where hospitals were already undersupplied and full, what life is going to look like there soon.
So I want to invite you to Take a moment and cry out to God. Maybe you’re alone and no one can hear you and you can really cry out, maybe you have family members around and you don’t want to, out loud, but in your heart, cry out to God, whatever words or thoughts you want to use… speak the pain of your heart.
Psalms of lament and broader stories of the Bible show us that it is not only ok, it’s appropriate to express our grief, our anger, our deep sadness and disappointment to God.
When we do that, we also call on God to change this situation.
And the scriptures for today also show us- that God can do that.
The psalmist lets out his cry, and then suddenly has hope, and encourages everyone to hope in the Lord- whatever circumstance they are going through, all the sudden there is confidence that God will make it right, after he cries, after he feels that God does hear.
In Ezekiel, the prophet speaks what God said to say, A valley of dry bones come together, bone to bone. Then tendons, and flesh. And then spirit. Now this was a vision, but it was to express what God was communicating to the people- and God even says that those who were dead, will live.
And this was a time the people were in exile, subjects under foreigners in a faraway place, Living a death-life in exile, and God says, I will bring you back, it will be like returning to life from the grave. I have spoken, I am the Lord. There is both the real recognition of the pain and suffering of the current situation, and hope about the change that God will make possible.
And Lazarus, Lazarus was physically dead, totally dead, four days dead- and with Jesus’ command, came to life again. The word from Jesus was to take away the stone, to remove the graveclothes- unbind him- that took community. People obeying Jesus for the life to be freed, for Lazarus to come out and walk as a living man once again.
The speaking about the situation and the recognition of it, lead to a change, in all three of these Scriptures. God hears the peoples’ cry, or the prophet’s or Jesus’ word, and brings life where there was death, joy where there was sadness, hope where there was despair.
This is all part of being people of faith. We acknowledge when we don’t understand what is going on, what God is doing… we cry out our pain, our hurt, our grief, we ask God to intervene, and somehow we hope that God really will and can do something- even if we don’t know what that is.
Let us also now take a moment to be grateful for something that has happened in the last week. And a moment to dream in hope- even from all of this strange situation, all this tragedy, what good thing might God do? What will new life look like on the other side of all this… and where is God bringing new life even now?
This is a good question for us to ask, even if, like Ezekiel we have to shrug our shoulders and say, I can’t really see it God, but you know. Even if all we can see right now is like dry bones, even if all we can do is cry out, or weep like Jesus, we can still hold onto the hope that God can and does resurrect. Resurrect us in the end for all eternity, but here and now, in many ways, God gives life and hope. May you cry out with all that’s on your heart, and may you know that God does answer, and how! Amen.