Sergio Rodriguez, Pastor for Community Ministries
“I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil.”- Ezekiel 37:14a
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
God’s people experienced the exile from the land of Israel as entombment; death. They lost all sense of belonging to God’s world-blessing familia. Ezekiel prophesied God’s familia-restoring love into their hearts. For love is stronger than death, the chaotic flood of the Exile can not quench its flashes in our hearts. How may God’s familia-restoring love poured into our hearts through faith be stronger than the certainty of death? Death, simply put, is a part of life. We are certain of two matters after we are born: taxes are to be paid and death is at our heals. Love in all its forms, might not be felt as strongly as these other certitudes. We all experience death as a part of the rhythm of life.
The Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, make this observation about the place of death as a certitude of our existence: death is the most ordinary thing…and yet in an individual case it is the most incomprehensible thing because it crushes every little bit of meaning [that one obtains in life] and disperses it.” Even the writer of Ecclesiastes [3:20] makes death’s guarantee more certain than any sort of meaning we may attribute to life when they say, “all go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” How does God’s familia-restoring love or the memory of love endure beyond the winds of time dispersing the last traces of who we are? Perhaps we need to sing with Miguel Rivera from the animated film, Coco, and say: “Remember me though I have to say goodbye…for even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart. I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart.” The exiles in Babylon struggled to hold in their heart the hope of such love. For as the Psalmist sang [Ps137:4-5]: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.”
When Ezekiel came into the valley of dry bones, he comprehended the hopeless longings of the exiles. In the year 586 B.C., the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar utterly destroyed Jerusalem, the temple and deported a great deal of the inhabitants of the city. Although he had deported the religious and political leaders approximately ten years prior, he brought to an end the Israelite’s sense of belonging to the world-blessing familia of God. They were without their own land in a foreign land. They were to assimilate to the customs of their conquerors. They were far from the presence of the Lord. In a word, they felt as if the very life-force within them had dried out. Even though the exiles were well-taken care of, they were, as Ezekiel described, “many lying in the valley and they were very dry.” The Psalmist describes best the Ars Mortis of these spiritually dried up folks: “How can we sing…while in a foreign land?” Will I forget to sing when I’m far away from my home and land? Our Dia de Los Muertos brings to our awareness this waft of death and anxiety in our midst. Will I be forgotten when I die? Or am I one of the forgotten ones now, experiencing death even before the dust has settled in the tomb. The pandemic experience was an exile experience where we all experienced the drying up of our relational bones. The words of the inhabitants of the valley of dry bones rings true in our ears: “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” God’s promise to Abraham that through us all the nations of the world would be blessed has ended in the valley of death. From familia to faith, the exile’s experience of entombment was total.
Yet even in death, the Lord hears the cries of the people yearning to be remembered and seen. The Lord God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” He is asking Ezekiel, “can you find love in a hopeless place?” The Lord commands to Ezekiel to speak his word of painstaking restoration. First sinews, flesh ,and skin, and then the Breath of life itself. God’s restoration re-animates the people piece-wise and from the in-most parts of their being. The Lord God knows that a people faced with the tendrils of death’s grasp need a gentle touch of love to make them whole. The Lord God will put God’s Spirit within them so that they might live. And in so doing, they would be filled with the Spirit of love. Familial love. A love within a particular place, peoples and for a time and a season.
The Lord God says to his exiled people, “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil.” God promises to pour out within our hearts the Spirit who re-animates us piece-wise into familia; into the body of Christ that we may be a sign of blessing to the world. From the least of us to the greatest, family members of ill repute and beloved matriarchs and patriarchs, God promises that we shall be restored unto love. Jesus understood this integral restoration to be the Will of God the Father. “and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should loose no-one whom he has given me, but raise them up on the last day.” God shall do so through his Spirit. The Spirit of love. The Spirit that, as Paul [Rom 1:4] says, “declared him to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead.” If this Spirit is poured out within us through faith, then we have the assurances that God is restoring us to a familial love.
That is how love is stronger than death, the chaotic flood of our exile can not quench its flashes in our hearts. For we have see the light of this love in our life together. Our life with our loved one whom we remember here. The dust of death has been blown away by the winds of life that carries us forward together with our loved ones. Martin Luther said it best when it comes to certitude of death seen from our eternal destiny: “You must see death in the light of life, see sin in the light of grace, and see hell in the light of heaven, permitting nothing to divert you from that view.” Amen.