Armadale UCA - 29.3.20

Lent 5

The Fear of Life

Reflections on Ezekiel 37: 1-14 and John 11: 1-45

Abraham Rattner, In the Valley of the Dry Bones (study for "Ezekiel"), chinese ink

A raggle-taggle of brokenness.

Blackness. Bleakness. Darkness.

End of life contortions and the contorted skeletal remains of humanity.

It is a frightening image of death and decay.

Decomposition and deterioration.

This would have been, must have been, this is a scary place to be – in a valley of dry bones.

And yet…

this is where God brings life to death and death to life: sinew, flesh, skin, breath…

What does this mean for us today, as individuals, as a Christian congregation, as the Church, as a nation, as a global community, living in and through this time of pandemic?

What does it mean for you in your life and relationships? As a Christian?

As someone who is seeking or struggling to believe?

Ben Zion – Valley of Dry Bones

In this image we see the despair of the prophet Ezekiel, overcome by the overwhelming vision before him; a whole landscape, as far as the eye can see, of bones picked bare; a carpet of death.

His abject hands mirror the barren background tree. (Might the defoliated tree point to an empty cross?)

The stark, striation of the bones evokes the regular stripes of the uniform of the concentration and death camps.

A vision of total terror, horror, and despair.

And yet…

God calls Ezekiel to speak into this terrifying situation, to prophesy and bring life out of death.

How can words change a situation? How can God`s Word change a situation? Can you recall a word, a hymn, a conversation which helped turn your world around? What might you say to someone today – via email or some other digital means – to help them at this time? What is the word you are hearing?

Joelle Westphal - The Valley of Dry Bones

If the vision of a valley of dry, dead bones isn`t terrifying enough – what would it look like that whole valley coming to life? Would that not be equally/more terrifying?

Life is beginning to stir again in this painting…slivers, wisps of life, and breath and spirit begin to swirl and agitate the dead.

Underneath a russet sky, an intimation, a red-golden aura of a far off yet very near resurrection dawn perhaps, the breath of God, the Spirit of life, begins to blow and breathe: divine inspiration.

In these difficult days of physical distancing – rather than social isolation – where are the signs of new life? Do you see any? What are they? Does this frighten you? Or inspire you?

What might it mean for the Church? And for Armadale UCA as a Christian community?

Where is the new life for you at this time?

The Raising of Lazarus and the Care of the Woman

Mlle de Bezieres © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Campion Hall, University of Oxford

A gaunt, spare Lazarus.

He has made it back. He emerges lean, drawn, yet there is a strength and straightness to him. He is alive, just…so little flesh…but all he needs for the next stage of his journey. He retains the pallor of recent experience and he has faraway eyes now. He has seen and experienced things of which we will never hear him speak…Strange. Mysterious.

Deeply connected to Christ, the suffering Christ, who appears awed by him.

This will be Christ`s story soon.

Consider the physicality of the story of the raising of Lazarus – four days…stench…embalming cloths…the stone… Christ`s deep disturbing grief…

This story is strongly `incarnational ` - visceral, flesh and blood, blood and guts.

Utterly human and believable. True.

Death and grief are intimate human experiences…awful and at times, overwhelming. And yet…they are experiences that may humanise and tenderise us to what is most important, what really matters. How has the current threat to life as we know it helped humanise and tenderise us? Or has it had a different effect on us?

Le Brocquy, Louis (1916- ) - 1954 Lazarus (Private Collection)

Here is Lazarus half in, half out of the grave.

Here humanity, life and death have very clean, clear lines.

He breaks the edges, the boundaries of the painting. He breaks the edges, the boundaries of life and death.

Chrysallis like, we do not see all of the emergent him.

There are parts of him we will never see. We do not see his face.

Humble, humbled, he raises his cruciform arms raised in what - prayer? Adoration? Supplication? Resignation ? Despair ?

And yet…

Could it be an exhausted `Thank You` ?

Confronted by the mystery of life and death, the rigours of this time, our own mortality, in the gruelling space which is Lent 2020, what is your response?