Sermon for March 29, 2020 Lent 5, Year A

Ezekiel 37:1-14                       Psalm 130                   Romans 8:6-11                        John 11:1-45

        Over these past two weeks I have learned a great deal about how to be with others without being physically present.  And, in the midst of this pandemic, I find today’s lesson from Romans helpful.  It begins with Paul saying, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” 

        At the beginning of Lent, we heard, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” as the sign of the cross was made on our foreheads.  Yes, we remembered then, our physical bodies are mortal – but at that time we were not facing a pandemic that has already resulted in the deaths of perhaps over 30,000 people now.  Each time I’ve checked the number has increased.

        So, we stay at home and take this threat seriously, or we try to put it out of or minds and go about business as usual – which is now impossible to do with all the school and business closings.  Even businesses that are allowed to be open, have restrictions placed upon them.    

        It is as if everyone, regardless of their faith or denomination, is now observing Lent.  I say this not to make light of this situation, but to remind you that going without can lead to a greater appreciation for what we do have.  The saying, “we don’t appreciate what we have until its gone,” applies today. 

In Lent, many of us practice some form of self-denial – this, however, is different, restrictions are not self-imposed, they are being forced upon us.  But as one who has observed Lent for many years, I know that restrictions on what I can have or on what I can do helps me to focus on what is most important, it sets my mind on the Spirit which Paul’s teaches “is life and peace.”

Not being able to physically be together for worship has helped we to appreciate being a part of this church community.  It has also helped me to appreciate being with my family.  This way of coming together, where we are with each other in spirit and worship, makes it possible for me experience life and peace in my world which has been disrupted in countless ways.  These disruptions are not minor.  People are no longer able to visit family in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.  And, in many cases, families are not able to visit family members who live in the same town.  People are being quarantined in their own homes.

Like our church, families are having to find other ways to be together.  We are using Zoom for this service, and we use it for Morning Prayer weekday mornings.  Our daughter is using Zoom to teach her students, so we have started using it for family gatherings as well.  We are now having happy hour most afternoons with our daughters. our son-in-law, and Clara, our granddaughter and entertainer.  Knowing we can’t be together makes seeing one another’s face’s, smiles, and sometime even tears, all the more important.  It reminds us we are not alone and it helps us feel a sense of peace. 

        From Paul’s letter, we are reminded that life is not found in the flesh, it is found in the Spirit, and, he says:

you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. … [And] if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

What gives our mortal bodies meaning, what makes us feel alive, is love – and God is the source of all love. 

        Ezekiel tells us of his vision when he is lead into a valley filled with bones where with the breath of God, the bones come together and are covered once again with flesh and then they are standing together when the spirit of the Lord tells Ezekiel, “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.’”  The Lord then says to the people:

 You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, 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.

This is a passage about trust.  Ezekiel was a prophet during the time when Jerusalem fell.  The people of Israel have suffered great loss.  People have died, people have lost their means of supporting themselves and life, for them, has changed.  God, however, offers them life.  This may be scary time for us, but God offers us life and we can experience peace within our souls when we put our trust in God. 

Our morality is certain, we just don’t know when to expect it, so we do pray that we shall not return to dust anytime soon and that those we love will be spared from this pandemic.  God may not be a magic cure for this pandemic, but with faith in God we can find life and peace. 

Over the past two weeks I’ve been meeting with people throughout our province and diocese and over and over again I’ve heard that people are attending church services online who were not attending before.  For some, it is because the physical restrictions of attending church have been removed.  But for others, I believe it is because they are seeking the peace we can experience when we worship together.  We need others in our lives, and we need God. 

So, here we are, joined in spirit, to focus our hearts on the one who offers us true life and peace. 

Let us pray.

        Gracious God, fill us with your spirit, that we might experience peace in our lives and be comforted by your presence.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.