Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 6, 2013
First Christian Church
It’s finally happened- I get to preach a sermon about zombies.
Popular culture has had a fascination with the living dead. The television show, The Walking Dead, is a hit series. Zombies have made it to the big screen as well: World War Z, Warm Bodies, Shaun of the Dead to name a few. Cities around the world host Zombie Walks where thousands of people, walk, I mean shamble around town dressed up in their best zombie gear. In 2012 about 7000 people took part in the Zombie Pub Crawl in St. Paul. Zombies are the in thing.
So, what is it about zombies that fascinate our culture? Maybe it’s a way of dealing with death. Maybe it reflects our fears of illness, especially the fear of some virus threatens humanity. Maybe it’s about the how thin is the wall between civilized order and chaotic violence.
Zombies remind us of the permanence of death. In a culture where we like to prize youth and health, zombies remind us that none of us getting out alive.
We have a fascinating text today. It’s probably not a passage that you’re familiar with. Well, actually you have if you know the song “Dem Bones.” You know the shinbone connected to something bone? It’s based off of this passage.
The prophet Ezekiel has a vision where he is in a valley filled with bones. Now this is even worse than a zombie. There is no body, just bones. Death is all around. There is no hope.
Now, you need to understand the background of this passage. Ezekiel is a prophet. He is called by God to be God’s spokesperson. Some prophets like Amos or Micah, would preach about the injustice done to the poor in Israel. But Ezekiel is different. He is a prophet to a nation in exile. Ezekiel was in the first wave of Israelites that were forced to leave their homeland for Babylon. There would be another wave of deportees a decade later, where the Babylonians invaded and destroyed Jerusalem. It was in that second invasion, where the temple in Jerusalem was also destroyed. So, the people of Israel were without land, without their temple and without a king, since he was deposed in the first wave. These forced immigrants felt that their culture was dying if not dead. And they had good reason to fear this; a century earlier, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was also invaded and a chunk of their people were taken. These Jews began to intermarry with the local population and basically dissapeared. So those who were now in exile began to believe that they were cut off from God; there was no hope whatsoever.
But God has a different message and God uses this vision to communicate that to Ezekiel. God asks Ezekiel if these bones could live. I can imagine the prophet shrugging his shoulders and saying to God, “only you know, God.” God tells Ezekiel that he will knit the bones together, adding muscles and then skin. God was going to make these bones live. Soon, the valley is filled with bodies. Just one problem: they didn’t breathe. Here we go with the zombies again. Then God calls the “ruach” or breath or spirit and the bodies begin to breathe. Life has come where there was death.
The situation for the Jews seemed hopeless. They felt like bones. But God is saying that they won’t remain bones forever. God will raise them up and lead them back home. God is what brings life to what was once dead.
When I think about this passage and the message it brings, a few hopeless situations come to mind. I think of my hometown of Flint, Michigan that is reeling after the collapse of the auto industry in the area. And I also think of this congregation. This is not a slam against the church, but one could think that a congregtion with just a few members has no hope. Best to close and move on. But I do think that God’s message of renewal applies to us as well. That’s if we realize that what brings new life is not of our own actions, but it comes from God’s Spirit. It is in God that the bones of this church are being knitted together. It is in God that muscles and tendons are attaching themselves to the bones. It is God who places the skin on our frames. And it is God that breathes life into this community of faith to be a living witness in St. Paul and to the ends of the earth.
The dry bones tale reminds us that God doesn’t forget God’s people. We are remembered by God. We are restored by God. What we as a community must do is have eyes to see and ears to hear where God’s Spirit is at work; in our lives, in this faith community and in the world. Let’s look for life and trust that God will bring us from death into life. Thanks be to God. Amen.