Led by the St Martin’s Chapel Consort, Morning Prayer begins on Pg 78 of the Book of Common Prayer or online here. This morning’s hymns are 142 (opening) and 150 (closing). The readings are Ezekiel 37:1-14 & John 11:1-45. The psalm is 130 found and the Psalter section of the BCP. The canticles are 18, The Song of The Lamb, & 17, The Song of Simeon, both on pg 94 of the BCP. The Anthem is The eyes of the all wait upon thee, O Lord, by Berger.
“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.”
A man falls ill. It begins with a slight cough. A fever that won’t go away. It gets steadily worse. It gets harder for him to breathe. The family is frantic with worry. They know someone who can help; they send word, “Please, our brother is dying—come quickly.” Days pass though, without a response, and the man dies.
“If only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
If only. If only they used hand sanitizer, or gloves, or soap…If only he hadn’t taken that cab…If only she hadn’t gone to that party…If only he hadn’t sat in his Nana’s lap…
If only. “Our bones are dried up…we are cut off completely.”
Rarely do lectionary passages sync as well as the story of the Raising of Lazarus and Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. And perhaps even more rarely have these two passages more viscerally articulated the moment in which we hear them today.
Our bones are dried up—we can feel the crackling of the skin of our hands from repeated application of soap, sanitizer and vigorous rubbing and drying—trying to protect ourselves from a microscopic enemy. We have been reduced to a skeletal framework of needs and anxieties—groceries, medicine, juggling work and kids in the same space. Many, many of us have been reduced with breathtaking speed to bare subsistence; the next paycheck, the next meal, the next night’s place to sleep. Dry bones.
We are cut off—from one another—working from home, meeting only in cyber space. The simple act of physical human contact is now suspect, and we long for a simple handshake or hug in a way that was inconceivable only a few weeks ago. Isolation—dry bones.
If only. So many if-onlys.
Our most plaintive if-onlys—the ones that we, like Martha and Mary, bring straight to Jesus—these if-onlys come from a place of deep loss and grief, compounding regrets and memories of the past with fear of a future that has a hole in it where something beloved used to be. But where the grief of Mary and Martha was for the loss of their brother, the grief that many of us experience now, at this point, is for something less tangible than the death of a loved one. Less tangible, but no less real. So first of all we need to understand and internalize the fact that the feeling that we have is grief. Then we try to wrap our minds around what– if it’s not an actual physical death—then what is it we are grieving–what it is that we have lost? A job? Autonomy? Health? Peace of mind? A sense of vocation, mission, the future? One of the most heartbreaking pieces I read this week was written by a college junior, entitled, “I Just Don’t Think We Have the Luxury to Have Dreams Anymore.’” To be twenty years old and so lost already. Dry bones.
Grief is a dry time; made all the harder if we feel that we grieve alone. Notice that Martha and Mary were surrounded by their community, as was the custom—all of them in solidarity with the pain and loss of the two sisters. That’s what we do, and why it is so hard now to be in isolation—we usually come together to support each other; to weep and commiserate at first, and then eventually, we hope, to make some kind of meaning out of the loss—to find that the gratitude for what has been loved and lost outweighs the ache. And then we try to find a way forward. In the burial service we say that in death life has been changed but not ended. But turn that around a bit; our life at the far end of the grief process—in spite of what we initially felt—by the grace of God we find that our life, our world, has been changed, but not ended. That’s how, if we will let it, we may discover that grief isn’t just a time of emotional adjustment to loss, it can be a process of transformation. These bones can live again.
How do we transform from the grief of this moment? How do we make meaning from this time without resorting to bromide and platitude?
Gaze upon Jesus. Look upon him in this moment as he stands with his friends and their community outside the tomb, his heart full of love and loss; the resolve in his face crumbling as the tears well up.
“Jesus began to weep.”
His tears have bound him to us. They are a visceral declaration that we are likewise bound to one another. We don’t suffer as individuals. We suffer together. Jesus didn’t—and doesn’t– weep in isolation—he wept in solidarity with the community.
When one is in pain, we all are.
I do not subscribe to the idea that God deliberately tests us by sending trials and tribulations to see how well we measure up. I do believe that the inevitable crises that we face provide opportunities for learning and making meaning. And in this moment, when we are wrapped up by the bindings of anxiety, fear, and isolation we can look upon the weeping face of Jesus and learn anew how deeply we are bound to each other and to realize that nothing, nothing can truly separate us from God or from one another.
The tears of Jesus break our hearts—open—to generosity, creativity, and yes, perhaps even joy as we see opportunities to reach out—safely—to our siblings in Christ in and around our community, as well as to honor and pray for the health and service workers whose caring reach puts themselves at risk for others’ sake. We now know more than ever that, in the words of poet Lynn Ungar, “our lives are in each other’s hands.” And while the moment is difficult, the lesson of that is a blessing.
“…suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them…” And the Lord said, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”