Ezekiel 37:1-14 and A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sunday March 26th, 2023
By Rev. Nicole Lamarche
Welcome again on what is in our version of the Christian tradition the fifth Sunday in Lent, we are making a journey together and next Sunday we get to wave palms. Our season of a Holy Pause will begin to shift to a parade and a procession and then a parade and a retelling of the old story.
But for now, in this moment, this day, this time together as we create an internal pause for ourselves and for this community, as we take some deeper breaths and tune into our heartbeats and letting ourselves arrive here a bit more fully, and as you are moved, I offer this prayer from Psalm 19.
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
He sang out with all he had from the stage of eTown in downtown Boulder on Wednesday night. He sang, “It’s all been so rearranged…I’ve seen you standing in the rain, don’t care if I’m insane…”
It was the anniversary of the massacre at our grocery store two years ago and many of us gathered to remember and this year for the first time, we heard from the families of the victims, in music, with stories, with raw expressions of a need for more to be done about gun violence and the trial of the man who murdered our ten neighbors. There were tears and laughter and there was hope and there was sadness and it was real. One of those who shared and performed was named Fee, his life partner was Suzanne Fountain, one of those killed on that Monday in March. She was as he said, a big red head and the love of his life. His face lit up when he told us that she brought him peace and he made her laugh.
Fee joined Nik Forester on that song which he wrote himself. It was both a bluesy lament and a hymn of praise and gratitude for their love, for the time they had together and how somehow she still seemed present to him. He crooned, “I could have been happy just standing by your side… Don’t go away from me… No, no no don’t go away… “
“It seems it’s been a million days, my world has vanished in the haze. They say I should be moving on, but my baby, I am not that strong.”
That line, about not being strong enough to move on really struck me, so I went back and found that I could listen to the whole service again on the eTown website. But that line about not being strong enough to move on. I don’t know something about the tragedy that they have endured, but I do know something about not wanting what was to go away.
There have been seasons where I just didn’t feel like I had the fight in me to try another way of being. Like I just didn’t have it in me to let go and keep moving and accept a new reality. Has anyone else been there too? Like I was stuck in grief and disappointment, like in the place where a dream died, where it felt like I was mourning the loss of an entire path or trajectory you thought you were on? I do know what that is like. I bet you do too.
Many of the families of the victims talked about that. The loss of having her dad as a grandparent for her two-year-old and her soon to be born son. The loss of the plan to retire in California. The loss of kissing her goodbye each day. When you think it’s going to be one way and then suddenly it’s not, it can feel like the end. Maybe if we get the privilege of being on planet earth long enough, we will each likely encounter this at some point. But dang is it a hard place to be.
Last week we talked about finding hope in the valley of the shadows or what some call the valley of the shadow of death and what we can do to grow our individual and collective hope in hard times. And today as we heard, another valley and this time with dry bones. It’s a rich vision from the Hebrew Scriptures where the poem commences with Ezekiel being lifted up by God and then “set down” or really kind of dropped “in the middle of a valley” And as it goes along he is led around by God and then God says to him so can you do something about this scene? “Can these bones live?”
And Ezekiel says something like, “You are asking me?” He says, “O Lord God, you know.” And then something amazing happens, this is 100% my dream way for how the Universe would show up: God gives instructions! You don’t have to wonder or worry. God says, here’s how you help the valley of the dry bones live, here’s how you can shift this whole scene into something else… speak to the bones, preach to the bones, give them a word of hope, prophesy possibility. And the second thing God says is that God will get busy joining that effort by trying to give the bones breath. Breath will enter you! And then sinew and skin, and then somehow in some way, it will all be springing to life again.
We have shared many times here before that the Hebrew word for breath is Ruach, which can mean breath, wind, spirit. And so when we put these ingredients together the way through the valley of the shadows or the valley of the dry bones might just seem impossible, but what if all that is needed are two things: hearing and seeing possibilities even in pain and continuing to breathe? Isn’t that refreshing?
I love what the poet Longfellow wrote, “Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.”
Maybe when we are not feeling strong enough to move on, when we don’t have the fight and are having trouble letting go, when we are grieving the loss of a path or trajectory, maybe our tasks are simple? Hearing the possibilities, daring to see them, even in pain, continuing to breathe, learning to labor and then wait… knowing it can’t, it won’t, always be like this.
Another family of the victim made her way to the stage and when she got to the microphone, she told us she had stage fright and that it was hard for her to be there. But it was clear she had a message for us. Something she knew we needed to hear. Her name is Olivia and she lost her mom in the massacre on that cold morning, in that valley of the shadow of death. But she came to the stage and she told us that somehow, “there is so much beauty in the pain…loss seems to cram so many life lessons down your throat at once that you spend years trying to swallow it…” She told us “I was destroyed by this…” but there is so much beauty… She said, ”our time here is precious” “from all of this loss, I can tell you, in the end, all we remember is the love…” She said, “yes your time is coming, but there isn’t a need to fear it, live your happiest life, your most fulfilled and happy life, death is not the worst thing…but wasting our life in ignorance of these truths just might be…”
So if you find yourself or someone you love in a valley filled with dry bones, remember this: don’t give up on possibilities! This seems obvious, but it’s essential! Even when you look around and see pain, there is beauty and there are possibilities and sometimes we can’t see them and we need one another to point them out. Second, keep breathing, deeply and intentionally, reminding others to do the same, to breathe in the goodness of life, the gift of being here however long we have. There is beauty and if we can’t see it yet, we can labor and then wait, knowing if we look for it, we will find it. In this heartbreak, in this harsh new reality, in this sadness, in what seems like all that can be found is dry bones, in this loss, there is also love. Olivia told us that miraculously there is beauty in this pain. She met a guy named Logan and fell in love and this happened since the massacre and he has the same birthday as her mom. Beloved of God, up from the graves! For each of us and all of us!
May it be so. Amen.
©Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche