37 The 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. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I 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.”
7 So 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. 8 I 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. 9 Then 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.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Breathe or Breath?
Pastor Cristina Airaghi
The tomb is empty. The end of the story is not suffering and death, but new life and a new way of being. We shift our focus from death to new life. We are not, after all, the people of the Cross. We are the people of the Empty Tomb, Alleluia people, the people who know that every step we take leads to new life, however distressing our situation seems at the time.
We find in the life of Jesus a deeper model of how to deal with the irritation, the loss, the rejections, and the injustice that are weighing us down, crushing our spirits, challenging our faith. Welcoming new life means something old has to die. Sometimes it is habit or a relationship, sometimes we say goodbye even to the people we dearly love. There is no avoiding the pain when that happens. New life comes into being the only way life can: in labor and in pain. Retelling and re-enacting the Passion narrative is an effort to understand the place of suffering in the human’s search for resurrection from death to life that is part and parcel of what it means to be alive and grow and become our best selves as we go. New life didn’t just appear in pastel chiffon and covered in chocolate while everyone peacefully slept—it was born of altercations with authorities, a fear-filled upper room and a cross. Likewise, learning to welcome new ways of being involves sleepless nights, tears of frustration, painful self-doubt and uncertainty.
Often we look back on Easter pictures that capture the pristine new outfits, perfectly coiffed hair, flower buds, fluffy chicks and fancy gold wrapped creamy Cadbury eggs (although I recommend the Oreo eggs next year, my new favorite!). But living into new life and letting go of the old is less like these picturesque sparkly photos and more like how I look after I have run a half marathon. It is not pretty. And while training and running are not things I enjoy, I have gotten some of my most profound theological insights between miles 6-9. Every time I run a race, I can’t help but think my most favorite race of all—the race to the empty tomb between Mary Magdalene, the beloved disciple and Simon Peter. The text isn’t clear on who got to the tomb first. John is so dramatic. It is neck and neck to the finish line. John Chapter 20 starts with: Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance…. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. Running, no matter the distance, causes me to be out of breath, so I imagine Mary and Peter bent over, gasping for breath, leaning on the now-rolled-away-stone as they get their bearings.
I have a tendency to hunch my shoulders and take only shallow breaths when I run. So once for a race, I made large cardboard signs for my cheering squad to hold up to remind me to breathe deeply. I spent hours making creatively decorated posters. The first sign I made, thinking I wrote Breathe, Cristina, Breathe! Actually read, Breath, Cristina, Breath! I am a terrible speller. So it is no surprise that I get the words breathe and breath mixed up. And the words still trip me up. As I started preparing this sermon I of course got the words mixed up. I asked Lisa and Brenda, “Are we talking about the imperative verb breathe or the noun breath? Are we talking about the action of taking in and expelling breaths or are we referring to the air that is inhaled and exhaled by creatures that experience respiration; the breath of God or God breathing on us?”
The breath of God sustains us, a God who cares for us and who suffers with us. Remember the word Passion comes from the Greek word “to suffer” and actually refers to an enduring love that perseveres by commitment through all obstacles. As Mary stood by the empty tomb, desperately trying to catch her breath, weeping because Jesus is gone…soon she will come to meet the Risen Christ, who will say to her”: 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? Why are you gasping for breath? I am here. Take a deep calming breath. I am here.”
“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Ezekiel 37: 5: Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.”
We are not, after all, the people of the Cross.
Those who have died have never, never left
The dead are not under the earth
They are in the rustling trees
They are in the groaning woods
They are in the crying grass
They are in the moaning rocks
We are the people of the Empty Tomb, Alleluia people, the Christ is Risen. The Spirit moves in and around us—it pushes us onward, off the couch and out the door, out of compliancy and into the world. So—take a deep breath and let’s get going! Amen.
© 2017 Cristina Airaghi. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lisa Horst Clark
Ezekiel was a prophet gifted with dramatic images. His gift was proclaiming the word of God in a picture that stuck with you, often unsettling you along the way. So here we are in a valley of dry bones. In a valley, a low point, looking out upon a gruesome scene with bones stretching as far as the eye can see. How did we get here? Who were these men and women? What battle or what tragedy befell them as now all there is is bone? In Ezekiel’s first prophecy what we hear is a rattling as bone connects to bone and flesh attaches and now we are looking out on a sea of the unmoving for breath has not entered them. We are looking out on a valley of bodies.
We are studying the Old Testament story today but we are a church that follows an embodied Savior and so bodies need to matter. Jesus came to us in the flesh and blood that we could see what love looks like. Over and again, Jesus cares for the living experience of bodies, the well being of those he encounters. Bodies are such fragile things: they can be struck down or laid low. In reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, “Between the World and Me,” what struck me most was his use of the word “body,” of what it feels like to go through America in a black body and the threats that are felt to the security of that body – from the streets, from schools, from great institutional inequalities. As he writes as to his son, “I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country that has lost the dream, is the question of my life.”
Following the death of Eric Garner, by an illegal chokehold, what he repeatedly cried out was, “I can’t breathe.” And crowds themselves took this as their rallying cry, lamenting the unjust systems as death felt close at hand saying instead, “We can’t breathe.”
And so, here we are in this valley, looking out at the sea of bodies and wondering what pain and what suffering could have brought us here. And for one who inhabits a body that travels more easily through the world the scene seems perhaps even a little too dramatic. And yet, if the gift of breath can be given only by God there are many ways it can be taken away. And so we are invited into this somber valley to look upon these bodies before us with a sense of urgency that in this world where race and class and gender identity and sexual orientation and poverty intersect that it should not be that some bodies can enter spaces with ease while others must guard themselves, their children and beloveds. At times I would look out on the vast sea before me and become overwhelmed by the tragedies and my own complicated place and histories that are vast and go back and back, raising graveyards of injustices of generations.
May these bones live, and if they were would I be frightened to see them rise? We are called to prophecy to the breath that we may know God moving in us and through us. Prophecy to the breath that we know that all voices that speak truth are a gift of God. Prophecy to the breath that even I might rise when I prefer to stay silent and still as these dry bones. Prophecy to the breath that we might be joined to see a multitude stand. Amen.
© 2017 Lisa Horst Clark. All rights reserved.
I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.
Those of you who’ve known me for longer than my tenure here as Parish Visitor, remember that I used to stand over there on Sundays and sing with Sanctuary choir. Singing and church singing has always been a part of my life. My mother was a church organist and I sang solos as a child and youth, I studied voice lessons as a teen and adult, trained to be a voice teacher and passed on the love and technique of singing to other teens and adults for several years. Breath, deep, supportive breath is the foundation of singing. Research has proven singing and choral singing is good for your body, your mind, your health, wellbeing and I would attest your soul. As my life has been spent more with hymns than the study of theological texts like my learned colleagues, I often find inspiration and strength from sacred song. But the ability to sing those is based on the gift of breath.
Through the years there have been many occasions, in many of our lives, where singing has been a joy, a celebration, a nurturing gift, a solace. But over time I’ve become aware of how much the breath , a simply sigh, a deep calming inhalation and release can change an emotion, quiet a moment, release tension or fear. In our life of faith we recognize these moments, these breaths as holy – gifts of God.
A long time ago I took a birthing class and learned the four stages of breathing that helped get me through the labor and delivery of 3 beautiful children. I was always grateful for the singing lessons that gave me a heightened awareness of how and where to breath. Adapting breath control for labor was easy for me – (the breathing part, not necessarily all the laboring part). I came to realize breathing to overcome the pain of labor, or heartache or chronic pain is a holy gift. Holy breath that helps us transcend our immediate situation, takes us to a place of respite, of safety, of knowing. Knowing that we are held and helped by a Spirit larger than our own powers of control.
And anyone who has EVER been in a delivery room, or present wherever a babe chooses to be born, might remember that moment, that hesitating, that waiting…… for that first breath, that first cry. Holy breath, the miracle of life. The child, the gift from God. I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.
Throughout that child’s life, how often have they fallen and skinned a knee or slammed their finger in the door and we’ve advised “Breathe through it! Just take a deep breath”. Of for the two year old meltdown, “just take a deep breath”, or for that time of tragedy – the stolen bike, the first romance lost, the college admittance denied. “Just take a deep breath”
We preach to those youngsters the deep breath both to try to comfort them and also to clutch at some sanity or safety for ourselves, to find a moment for grace. Breath as a moment of prayer, a moment in which to be refilled, a moment to collect ourselves and to find the ability to continue, to go on, to face what comes next.
When our oldest daughter was ill several years ago she spent many days being prepped and waiting for surgery. No food, no water, be ready – wait. Oh, not today, maybe tomorrow, no food, no water, be ready – wait – oh not today. Over and over. This parent (any parent) requires alternatives to walk through that journey. And then one night, very late, the medical folks come and say – yes, Now. They take your child away and you wait, in the darkness, in the institution, you wait. Now, me, first – I cry, I pray, and continue to wait. But I also sing, Be Still and Know that I am God – over and over and over and over again. Now the text reminds us that we aren’t in charge and we have strength on which to lean. But the singing – the singing is breath, slow, rhythmic, steady, sustaining, God filling breath. Holy breath. The breath that gives you courage to wait another hour. The breath that sustains you through the dark night, the breath that provides the will to face the next step, the holy breath that strengthens you in this moment and allows you to move to that next moment.
In my ministry here among you I’ve been privileged to share some of your “moments”; the trip to the ER, the serious health incident, the sadness and grieving, the scary test, the worry and heartache. You’ve allowed me to journey with you. As you’ve wanted it -I’ve prayed with you, I guess if you’d asked, I would have sung, but I’m not sure I remember having to do that. In these life moments, I don’t have the solutions, or the miracles. Sometimes there isn’t anyone who does. But in the moment I’ve held you and said “Breathe”, on the phone I’ve encouraged you and said “Breathe” and I’ll admit that in this day and age I’ve reached out to you by text, and all I’ve been able to offer is a word – “Breathe”.
Breathe on me breath of God, Fill me with life anew Breathe Holy Breath, and be filled with holy life. May breath sustain you in a moment of crisis or frustration, may breath calm you, may breath give you strength to step forward into battle. May each simple breath not be taken for granted but be known as the very breath of God …………AMEN
© 2017 Brenda Hounjet. All rights reserved.