Reading the bible passages set for this Sunday, I find myself noticing a particular thread in both Ezekiel and St John. In Ezekiel’s vision, the valley is filled with dry bones. There is no life left in them; they speak of life long gone and ended. God speaks to him and asks, can these bones live? Wisely Ezekiel answers, ‘Only you know’.
God’s response to this is to give Ezekiel a message that the bones will indeed have flesh put on them again, and the breath of life breathed into them. And Ezekiel passes the message on, and surely enough the bones knit together, and muscle and skin appears on them, and the breath of life is in them once more – and they stand before the prophet, a huge number of people, living and breathing, where before there was only bones and death.
There are indeed times when, as in Ezekiel, we say ‘our bones are dried up and our hope is gone.’ But that does not need to be the case. Unless of course we are relying on our own strength, our own abilities, our own resources.
We see this again in the story from St John’s gospel, where Lazarus is sick and Jesus does not arrive in time to heal him – or so it seems. Lazarus is one of Jesus’ dear friends, along with his sisters Martha and Mary. We know Jesus has visited their home; this family clearly plays a significant part in Jesus’ life. But when news comes of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus does not drop everything and run to him. Instead he finishes his task where is presently is before going to Judea where Lazarus lived.
By the time Jesus arrives, it is all too late. Lazarus is dead. Hope is gone. There are only bones, and the body decomposing upon them – it is quite a graphic moment in the gospel description, when Jesus tells them to open the tomb and the response is that this will not be pleasant as the man has been dead four days and it’s a hot country! The sisters Mary and Martha are reproachful. If you had come, they say, he would not have died. This could have been avoided.
We all have moments like this, when it seems utterly hopeless. When the people or places or things that we love or rely on are snatched away from us, and we are bereft. At present for most of us, it is only our way of life that has radically changed as we try to slow the spread of Covid-19. But soon, the time will come when we lose loved ones. The announcement by the NHS chief medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, that the UK will do well to keep deaths below 20,000 is a big reality check. And it means that many of us may lose friends and family members. What can we do? Sitting at home in a way feels like doing nothing. But it is one of the best things we can do.
The other key thing we can do is to keep hope alive and trust in God to bring blessing. To bring the breath of life back into the dry bones. Things may not be the same after this as they were before, but it is possible that God will bring something beautiful out of the pain and struggle and chaos that we are currently in – not just in the UK but across the world. Already we are seeing communities pulling together and a generosity of spirit coming through. Yes, there are incidents of rage and anger and violence. But let us also pray for those people, that God’s love can break through their pain and anger, so they too can see hope.
Tonight, Sunday, the #CandleOfHope continues to shine its light, its flame burning strong. I will be lighting candles in the windows of the Rectory, and I encourage you to join with me and with thousands of others. Please share your photos on our facebook page too!
‘The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1.5)
With love, light and peace,