Re:Lent – Open Graves

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

1The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I 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.

 

This is an incredible vision…

A multitude of bones in the valley of the shadow of death – forgotten long ago. What must have happened? It’s a vision of resurrection for an exiled nation that has lost hope.

Emily Dickinson penned these famous words, “Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me.”

Our calendars our full, but oftentimes, our lives feel empty. We are too busy to see life around us…too busy to notice death as well…too self-absorbed to witness or bear witness to the promise.

At this point in our Lenten journey, if I am honest with myself and you all, I have to admit I am weary of death.

  • Funerals – we’ve had our share this year at the church.
  • The Death of Relationships – divorces among friends, estrangement within families, and hostility between longtime mates.
  • The Death in Closing Churches – empty sanctuaries and lonely steeples now only headstones to a light that used to shine.

I am weary of death.

Sometimes, we feel like the dried up bones in the middle of the valley – a darkness creeping – a malevolent fog that lingers and will not burn off. Sometimes, we fear all hope is lost – There’s a psalm for that…

Psalm 130

1   Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2        Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

3   If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4   But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

5   I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6   my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

7   O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8   It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

 

Resistance – temptation, rebirth, restoration, rebellion…but what about death? How can we resist death? All men and women must die…the grave feels final…

Taphophobia – literally, the fear of graves, but it speaks mainly to the fear of being buried alive. It terrified, among others, Hans Christian Anderson, Frederic Chopin, George Washington. Likely, the best known person to suffer from Taphophobia was the writer Edgar Allan Poe who wrote many stories expressing his personal dread – I still get chills thinking about “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Obviously, we’re moving toward Easter and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, but the Bible points toward resurrection throughout its pages. Beyond the story here in Ezekial, the widow of Zaraphath’s son, Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus…

Lazarus – 4 days in the tomb. If you had been here, he would not have died. You helped others, but you couldn’t save your friend. Where were you Jesus?

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

(Jesus wept…because, when your heart is heavy – cathartic tears spring forth.)

Take away the stone.

Lazarus, come forth.

“Unbind him. Let him go.”

 

Jesus could have been there earlier. He could have healed his friend. He could have done many things, but his ministry is moving now in a new direction.

We can never understand resurrection without death (it’s impossible). Only those stilled by death can ever hope for resurrection. Only those laid low can ever rise again. This is a hope beyond sight, touch, this life. Put another way…

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, NRSV.)

Resurrection changes everything. It means death does not have the final word. It is a liberation message – freedom in the next world…and a unique independence in this life. We are free to love, to care, to give…even to weep.

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

 

C.H. Spurgeon poignantly stated it this way: “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you. So carve you name on hearts, and not on marble.”

The future of the church is not in a sanguine eulogy delivered over an open hole in the earth or on a headstone epitaph declaring the great things once accomplished – long since dead.

Death isn’t the end – and in fact, there are things we need to let die in our lives if we are ever going to live more fully into a resurrected faith. Fear, worry, doubt, pettiness, self

 

5   I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6   my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

 

Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli coined the word taphephobia.  As Morselli described it, “The taphephobic … is an unhappy person, his every day, his every hour being tormented by the sudden occurrence of the idea of being buried alive.”

 

Jesus came to conquer death, but also to drive out fear.

Still, I am weary of death.

Can these bones live?

Take away the stone.

Lazarus…church…come forth. Unbind us, and let us go forth.

 

 

 

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