May23SunPentecost Sunday 2021 May 23, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
If there ever was a Sunday to dress up as a red Zombie for worship,
maybe today would be it.
We have as our first reading a pretty gory text of dead corpses
getting re-animated and standing up.
I did see this one video version of the scene,
and it reminded me why certain passages of the Bible are best left to the imagination and don’t quite work on the silver screen.
Now the text of the Valley of Dry Bones is not a typical sermon text for the Sunday of Pentecost,
a day where we normally either focus on the events in the upper room with the outpouring of the Spirit on the Apostles,
or else on Jesus’ foretelling of the Spirit’s arrival.
But this year particularly,
It fits our present situation in the third act of this global pandemic.
This reading from Ezekiel reminds us how the Spirit breathes life into our dry pandemic bones.
Though it is a vision,
it is a very down-to-earth text that speaks to the despair of the hearers, both past and present,
and proclaims hope to the hopeless in God’s response to re-create and re-enliven what once was lost.
God gives a second chance, all for the sake of God’s holy name,
Allowing for new relationships,
with a new heart and a clean right spirit for us,
so we can again follow our maker and master and know that God is Lord.
In our reading, the prophet Ezekiel is brought by the “hand of the Lord”
in a dream-like vision to the middle of a valley
full of dry, old bones as far as the eye can see,
human bones, left right and centre.
He is then asked by God:
Can these bones live?
Is there hope that these dry bones, who have been here for decades,
ever have a chance to become human again and to walk, eat and sleep?
Now originally Ezekiel was retelling this dream to a people in Exile.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE,
thousands were deported to Babylon,
and many were wondering if they would ever return to their homeland.
Would they live in exile, in a foreign country forever?
Was their relationship with their God Jehovah finished?
Perhaps we can imagine ourselves today like the exiled people of Judah and Jerusalem,
as the pandemic dry bones.
We are dried up, sick and tired of these restrictions,
these fears of this tiny virus spreading, locked down and fed up.
Our bones are tired, and parched.
What are our dry bones today?
There have been so many missed opportunities during this pandemic,
lost jobs, and businesses bankrupt,
The isolation has driven people stir-crazy,
Depression and anxiety have been climbing,
Domestic violence and divorce have increased,
Drug and alcohol consumption have grown
and overdoses have taken their toll,
medical and surgical appointments have been delayed,
And the school year has been disrupted for students and teachers,..
The list goes on,
we all hear about it daily and perhaps too incessantly these past 14 months.
A year ago, George Floyd was murdered on May 25 2020,
sparking a growth of the Black Lives Matter movement
and a renewed scrutiny on systemic racism against People of Colour. Black people echoed the words “I can’t breathe”
as a symptom of how they feel like dry bones in a valley of prejudice.
Many could have echoed the words of Psalm 88 this past year:
4I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
5like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
It has been a long year of pandemic dry bones for us
and for our siblings around the globe.
But as we hear in our reading,
Seeing the dry bones in the valley, in that death valley,
that was not the end of the dream, but only the starting point.
Ezekiel was commanded by God to prophecy to the bones,
to command them with the Word of the Lord
and to remind them of God’s words:
“I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.
I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you
and cover you with skin.”
And well, that could be the end of the story too.
We often hear of prophets prophesying and saying words of the Lord,
but not too often do we see
what actually happened as a result of those powerful words.
All those bodies had flat-lined, as the doctors say,
before beginning CPR and bringing out the paddles
to jumpstart those hearts.
Only God knew what was possible.
Humans would have said “no way Jose”.
But then suddenly —it happened!
“The Hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone”,
All the bones began to join together,
and the prophecy came true.
The bones were starting to take shape again.
Now even with all the sinews, flesh and skin intact,
the bodies were still lifeless.
It’s just like how even lifelike robots aren’t alive, they aren’t human.
The may look alive, but really they aren’t.
Bone and flesh alone are really just dust!
So then, hearkening back to the second Creation story in Genesis 2 where God breathed into the nostrils of the first man,
turning the pile of clay into a living breathing human,
The prophecied breath came and a vast multitude stood on their feet.
The breath of God is vital for the transformation.
Without the breath, the RUACH, the spirit of the Lord,
the bones, muscles and skin are really just a pile of dust to dust, earth to earth and ashes to ashes.
The Spirit is really the all-powerful ingredient in all this.
Only with God’s spirit present there is the possibility of life out of death.
When the Spirit of God moves, things happen!
Just like we heard in our reading from Acts,
About the outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples gathered together on the first Christian Pentecost.
The Spirit gave energy and courage and commitment to the dried-up bones of the scared disciples,
and united them across language, gender, race and class.
When God says:
“I will put my spirit within you and you shall live!” (V14)
Then God really means it!
Because the Spirit, who is completely beyond the material,
is the most important force for us.
It blows as it will, and is something we can’t control.
It unleashes creative and revolutionizing power,
And is behind our current era of renewal in the church,
Where we can let go of that which held us back,
And be freed for more vitality: life, energy, and hope.
And be inspired and lifted beyond our normal capacities.
The Holy Spirit reveals that God is the Lord.
The Holy Spirit reminds us that the Lord has spoken and will act.
Even for our dried-up pandemic bones.
A month ago we were in a more difficult situation:
with COVID cases still climbing in Ontario,
But now we are more hopeful, with a new re-opening plan for Ontario.
The spirit’s re-energizing of the valley of dry bones is a message of hope for the hopeless.
There is possibility for new life,
There is light at the end of the tunnel.
We will be going back to some sense of normalcy,
Although it will not be the simple old normal,
of just turning the clocks backward.
We have changed too much in the past 14 months.
Our bones have been bleached by the sun.
We now realize more was broken in our society than we perhaps knew.
COVID has opened our eyes,
if we can only seize the opportunities to effect change.
While our bones were dry, we discovered how we are so reliant on Black, Indigenous and People of Colour as essential workers,
many of whom work under risky conditions:
In Amazon fulfillment centres, in Long Term Care,
and food production facilities, for example.
We discovered how many have said “I can’t breathe’ like George Floyd, with the knee of injustice and racism on their necks.
We have re-discovered how threats like climate change, class divide, and unbridled consumer capitalism affect us all,
and so we need a closer unity, a more resolute purpose,
to band together to be co-creators with God in these difficult times.
Above all, we can rest in God’s Words of Power and Might,
who brings forth life out of seemingly hopeless situations,
and will breathe our dry pandemic bones into new and loving pathways.
And so we pray to the Spirit of Love:
“Come, stream of endless flowing, rescue us from death
Come, wind of springtime blowing, warm us by your breath.”