Suffering is the path to Easter

Lent is a time of preparation for Easter.  It is a time to contemplate our own life’s journey.  The hurts and lost dreams of life.  The times when we don’t know what to do next, when hope seems lost.  We can never the full impact of the resurrection unless we are honest with the Good Friday’s of our lives, the times when hope seems to escape us, the times when what next had no answer, the times we felt abandoned by life itself.  Make no doubt about it the journey to Easter is a time we must contemplate our own life struggles, in order to recognize our own progress in faith.  They are all the more necessary to appreciate the journey that is on the other side of the empty tomb.  The Ezekiel passage we heard takes place in a valley a low place in the history of Israel.  It stands as a metaphor of the challenges in life and the opportunities that lie ahead of us.  We know from this tale that God is not only the source of life but the restorer of hope.    The dry bones on the floor of the valley are our opportunities to ask what dry bones exist in our own journey and what can we take away from these lonely and parched experiences in life.

Ezekiel is speaking in metaphorically about the dry bones as they represent the dusty sense of hopelessness that Israelites would never find their way home, but it also represents the promise that God made to them that one day they will return to the Promised Land.  It represents to us the same promise that God will not leave us alone in the dust and dryness but will not somehow but triumphantly be with us in glory.

John Calvin said of this passage that it was given to arouse the despairing refugees to hope of their eventual return home.  The story is both a political one of expectation to overcome the oppressor while reminding us and them of God’s longer term promise in the recreation of the world to come.  That is the source of all hope in the world.  It is a power outside our own ability that necessitates us to trust in something greater than ourselves and our seeming inability to get it right.

It is also important not to read to quickly and jump ahead to the “Good Part”.  The part about the joy of new life.  Of the bones coming together and God breathing new life into them.  Of Lazarus coming forth from the grave.  Of God’s breath upon our face blowing us in the  direction of the New Jerusalem.  We must ponder, for at least a moment, what we need to learn from our dry bones.  This could be individually or it could even be corporately.  What is it that we have to learn from our relationships, our world, and our place in it.

I have been doing a bit of this myself recently.  As most of you already recognize my personality is a change agent.  I like change. I look for ways to bring about change.  I sometimes don’t even ask if folks are ready I just bring on the change.  One of the first things I was involved with here in Estes upon my arrival was Baccalaureate.  Two years ago I jumped right in and helped plan this event.  At first it was just helping to implement some liturgy to the evening and maybe helping to educate others involved on just what liturgy is.  Last year I even presented an invocation along with a historical bit about just what Baccalaureate is.  Well this year the inter-faith council the group in town with responsibility for the service to secure a speaker for the event.  To most people I asked nobody could recall a women speaking at the event.  So I went out with the intent of bring a top notch women to preach the event with the hope of opening the eyes to the many, many students who likely have never heard a women in this role before.  After some research and talking I found a women that I felt would be awesome.  She is from Broomfield and therefore familiar with this part of the world.  I contacted her and she was not only available but excited about the opportunity.  I began to tell some of the other folks in town about her and her excitement to be here.

At the first planning meeting for Baccalaureate I was met by a couple of people that never show up to these meetings. It was a bit surprising but I began to become concerned at the same time.  It quickly became obvious why they had choosen to show up.  They were there to oppose this women being the speaker.  This upset me much more deeply than I think I recognized.  It upset me that people of faith could really be that closed minded to a women of faith.  It upset me because this was an organized opposition to a view held by many people in this town, present company included.  I had to contact the speaker as well to tell her sorry it’s not going to happen.  She happens to be a writer along with being a pastor and wrote the following blog on her web site and I want to read it to you…

Both our Hebrew scripture and Gospel passage tell a story of exile and return.  They are stories of displacement and a journey down a long road a long way from home and a longing to return.  This plot of exile and return in a part of the deep structure of the Bible and our own lives.  It tells of a desire for humanity to indwell with God, again as we did in the beginning.  It tells of broken systems of oppression that exclude simply because “they” are different.  It reminds us that we may have traveled a great distance from that garden but pints out that we still have a lot of work to do ahead of us.  We must push on in our journey.  Just as Jesus would not allow fear of others or sorrow of lost hope stop him from taking his own journey, we must say with Thomas “let us also go that we may die with him”.

That is the power of Easter faith.  It tells us that sometimes what happens to us when we suffer is that we become open to the mercy and grace and gratitude and gift and appreciation and joy that are always around us, all the time.  We are going to suffer.  And it is going to shape us.  Somehow, we will become better, open, more aware, tuned into the power of resurrection all around us.

The dry bones are all around us.  They are just waiting for us to breathe life into them to take part with God and make it on earth as it is in heaven.