There is a scene in the movie Return of the King, based on the third volume of J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga The Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn gives dead soldiers who deserted their king a chance to regain their honour and be restored to peace if they will help to defend the City of Kings which is under attack by evil powers. He enters a cave through a small crevice in the mountain. It is dark and the sound effects make it clear that this is not a pleasant place. He steps over piles of dry bones heaped up against the walls of the cave and it appears that these are nothing but dry skeleton bones.
Suddenly, in the centre of a large room, these skeletal creatures begin to threaten, but they are not really alive. Aragorn offers them a chance to redeem themselves by making good on their pledge to defend good against evil, and to be a part of a community that will restore the kingdom.
The prophet Ezekiel has had a similar experience in this week’s Hebrew Scripture well known reading (Ezekiel 37:1-14. In a vision or dream, he is with God in a valley of dry bones. God tells Ezekiel to instruct the bones to listen to the Lord. Then God tells the bones that God will restore their bodies with muscle and flesh and give them breath, resurrecting them to life and knowledge that God is the Lord. God calls upon the four winds to bring life back into the bones and they are alive again. This powerful image of God’s Spirit being breathed into the bodies so that they may live brings us back to the creation story in Genesis.
God communicates with Ezekiel through a vision or dream. God needs Ezekiel to tell this story to the people of Israel. They have lost hope and are feeling disconnected from their relationship with God. God wants them to know that only God gives life and has the power to restore the community to fullness. It has a semblance of applying to our world today as we face the requirements asked of us to stop the spread of Covid-19. God wants Israel to know that feeling powerless and hopeless is a form of death that sucks the life out of them, creating despair. Ah and this is what we too meed to hold on to; But they can be restored if they will just be faithful. This vision of hope for the revival of their nation as the children of God comes from God’s word and Spirit alone.
Both of these stories are about restoration, not of individuals but of communities being redeemed. They both have a prophet who is the messenger to the people. They both reject death and trust the stunning freedom and power found when the whole community is restored to their call to action and faithfulness.
As we near the end of Lent, we are being reminded that God’s Spirit is the source of our life as a community. We are not only being prepared for Christ’s resurrection but our own. As we read the Gospel, we have to look beyond the obvious. This account of the resurrection of Lazarus seems strikingly similar to the account we will hear of Jesus resurrection in a few weeks. In fact, it is this story that precipitates the plot against Jesus and leads to his death and resurrection. Jesus acts, not on his own, but from God’s guidance and not at the urging of others. It is another account of life coming from God and no one else.
Jesus is told that his friend Lazarus in Bethany is ill. But Jesus does not go there for two more days and not until after the disciples remind him that Bethany is the place where the people wanted to stone him just a short time ago. Jesus takes the opportunity to tell the disciples that he will go there so that they might believe. He is the prophet in this story, and it is up to him to bring God’s message of life.
I will leave you to read what actually happens but as a part of our Lenten journey we are given yet another opportunity to walk a path toward restoration with Jesus. But we must walk that path as a community so that there may be a resurrection into new life. We are reminded that only God gives life. These stories give us hope that God will continue to give life even over death. Even in these times of pandemic that promise, and that hope is still valid.
We are living in a new time but first we must experience Easter. We can make some choices about how we get to Easter. We can choose not to focus on the things of the world that distract us and drain our life from us. We can choose to resist loving or accepting some more than others because they are different or think differently. We can deny those things that satisfy a sense of artificial power based on material things. We can choose to nurture a sense that we are individually more important than who we are together, as a family.
Or we can be restored by allowing the Spirit of God to give us life. We can choose to live as Jesus lived. We can live into our call to be a community of faith focused on the strength of our unity. We can give ourselves over to be restored by letting those things that separate us from God and each other die and be resurrected in Spirit to life as faithful believers.