March 29, 2020
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois
This has been a hard week. I have been trying to reach out to church members, family, friends, as well as manage the needs of my children and our household. Mundane, everyday things seem to take more effort, simple errands aren’t simple any more, and trying to stay informed only makes me more sad and anxious.
I am grieving. You are too, I’m sure. We are all mourning losses, the loss of connection, the loss of normality, the loss of events and plans. Many of us are losing jobs. I have a friend who is a factory manager, and has been furloughed for a week. That’s better than the rest of the workers there who were laid off. Other people I know are faced with the daily trauma of what is happening as hospitals struggle to cope with too many patients and not enough equipment.
This pandemic reminds us that we are fragile. We like to think we’re self-sufficient, until the underlying systems we rarely think about start to fall apart. Our health, our lives, are at risk in new ways, and we worry about our loved ones who may be even more fragile than us. It is helpful for me to recognize my experience in this as grief. And it may be helpful for you to take time to name the losses that you are facing in this time.
I have also found it helpful to remember that God is familiar with loss, grief, and the fragility of life. God is with us in this moment, hearing our cries, receiving our fears, and soothing our hearts and minds. In the valley of dry bones, in front of the tomb of Lazarus, God holds hope for us who have no hope. God gives life, and God renews life even when death seems to have won. We fragile humans were created in the image of God, and even the hairs on our heads are counted. Each of us, every one, is loved by God.
I think it is important to remember that we are loved by God, each one of us. I also think it is important to remember that even though God will love us after we die, and has prepared a place for us beyond the veil, God loves us now, in this life, and each life is precious. There is talk from some politicians about lifting quarantines, sending people to work despite the risk of spreading infection, and allowing some people to die in order to save the economy. I know that there are many who are already struggling to put food on the table, and it would be great for us all to be able to get back to work. But this kind of talk puts a price on human life, trading the image of God for the almighty dollar.
I read an article published on Thursday in the New York Times entitled “God Doesn’t Want Us to Sacrifice the Old.” The author, Russel Moore, is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Now, under normal circumstances, Moore and I would probably disagree on a lot of issues; but these are not normal times. Moore writes, “It’s true that a depression would cause untold suffering for people around the world, hitting the poor the hardest. Still, each human life is more significant than a trillion-dollar gross national product.” When we start to think of people in terms of dollar signs, we diminish the humanity of everyone. Moore goes on to say:
A life in a nursing home is a life worth living. A life in a hospital quarantine ward is a life worth living. The lives of our grandparents, the lives of the disabled, the lives of the terminally ill, these are all lives worth living. We will not be able to save every life. Many will die, not only of the obviously vulnerable but also of those who are seemingly young and strong. But every life lost must grip us with a sense of lament.
We depend on jobs, work, and money to make it day by day, and I understand the value of a good economy. We will return to work, things will get better, and we will be able to gather in large groups, shake hands, and hug our friends again. But we can’t do that until doing so will not result in preventable deaths, hospitals overrun with sick patients, and medical professionals dying because of a lack of protective equipment.
We can make it through this crisis. It will be difficult, particularly for people who are already struggling. As the days pass, the losses build, and our future seems less certain, we may feel like our bones are drying up. We may feel like we have lost hope, that we can’t make it through this to the other side.
God brought Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones to give him a message of hope. “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” This is not the end, not for Israel, and not for us. Even as we cry out, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely” God reassures us that we will rise again, that death does not have the last word. “‘O my people. 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,’ says the Lord.”
God asks, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know.” God knows because this is the God of Israel, the God who created the world and all that lives, who gave children to Abraham and Sarah who was thought to be barren, who set free the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and made the covenant to be their God, who called on them through the prophets to seek the way of life. This is God who gave Ezekiel a vision of dry bones coming to life in order to give hope to the people in exile, to revive their spirits and breathe life back into them. This is God who in the midst of a global pandemic can breathe life into us as we gasp for breath, and raise us to newness of life.
The breath of God, the Holy Spirit that brought life into the dry bones, is the same breath that filled the lungs of the crucified Jesus, raising him to life in the resurrection. That same breath filled our lungs in the moment of our birth and as we rose to newness of life in our baptism. The breath of God still blows through the world, even a world that struggles to breathe, bringing life even in the face of this terrible illness.
In the incarnation, the breath of life in the flesh, we find that God truly enters our humanity. Jesus was a fragile human like us, who knew joy and pain, friendship and grief. In this scene, as Jesus makes a risky trip to Bethany, we see him in one of his most human moments. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”
“Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the King James Version of the Bible, translated slightly differently here, and one of great significance. As one scholar writes, “This is an emotionally profound testimony to the truth of the incarnation itself, of Jesus being truly one of us to the point of sharing our human need for friendship and our grief at the loss of a friend.” Jesus knows what it is to grieve. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and Jesus weeps for every life that ends. Even knowing that he had the power to reverse death and bring Lazarus to life, Jesus stops to mourn.
We can make it through this crisis. It will be difficult, but we can trust that God will see us through. “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” says the Lord. “Jesus said to [Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’” May the hope that God holds for us sustain us until we can gather again in health, in fellowship, and in love. Stay home! Amen.
 Ezekiel 37:5. Unless otherwise noted, the scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Ezekiel 37:11.
 Ezekiel 37:13-14.
 Ezekiel 37:3.
 John 11:33.
 John 11:35, King James Version.
 John Rollefson, Homiletical Perspective on John 11:1-45 in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Vol. 2, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 141.
 John 11:25-26.