‘It will all be over before Christmas’
That is the cheerful (and probably imagined) response of the British to moments of great challenge, like the first world war ‘we will give this enemy a good thwacking and send him packing!’ the recruiting sergeants might have said………..as thousands flocked to join up
It doesn’t take long for that mood of optimism to change to: ’when will it ever end?’ ‘how can it ever end?’
The excitement that the total change of circumstances that a war brings takes a while to wear off, for some sooner than others and then it all just becomes a terrible grind, as reality bites with one desperately sad and disappointing event after another, as the casualties mount up amongst friends and relations.
It’s easy in world changing events for hope to be extinguished
This was the situation for the Jews at the time that the prophet Ezekiel is speaking, from our reading today. The Babylonians in 597BC had sacked Jerusalem after a great slaughter and exiled much of the population to Babylonia, away from the land that they loved so much. Ezekiel was one of them and he probably wrote his book at some stage during the first twenty years of Judah’s long compulsory exile in Babylon.
The Jews were in despair, there seemed to be no way out. No way that they would ever return to their promised land, a land of milk and honey. It was ………….impossible
In Ezekiel’s vision, they were like dry bones, lying on the floor of a valley or scattered across a plane: the remains of a defeated army, picked clean by birds and wild animals and dried white by the Sun. Nothing could be more permanently lost than that army: defeated, dead and not even buried!
When the Lord speaks to Ezekiel in his vision, as he surveys the valley of dry bones, the Lord says to him (verse 2): ‘Son of Man can these bones live?’
‘No they cannot’ is the obvious answer ‘No! don’t be so foolish’.
The obvious answer is: There is no hope. But Ezekiel knows better than to say that to his Creator and so he replies ‘Sovereign Lord, You alone know’
And the Lord says to him (verse 4) ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones ‘I will make breath enter you and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you and you will come to life’
So Ezekiel does his bit and prophesies to the bones, a seemingly futile exercise…
And then, astonishingly, there is a rattling sound and the bones come together and then flesh and skin appears.
Then the Lord says to Ezekiel, ‘prophesy to the breath breathe into these slain that they may live’.
So Ezekiel does as he is told and the breath enters into them, they come to life and stand up on their feet; a vast army restored to life! Hope restored!
Some of us may have found the beginning of this corona crisis quite exciting. Introverts are delighted by the time at home, extraverts are delighted to have an excuse to spend all day on the telephone or on FaceTime.
We may be very optimistic about how soon this crisis will be over. For President Trump It will all be sorted by Easter. Even the Prime Minister (before he got sick) said that the tide can be turned within the next 12 weeks. So over by Easter…or Christmas?
I hope and pray that he was right. But we just don’t know what is round the corner with this thing.
Like the unpredictable course of a war, we may easily reach a stage, when we feel a sense of despair, as we find permanent damage has been done to our businesses, to our investments, even to our friends and families (if we lose some of those we love).
We could easily find ourselves in a place where we start to lose hope.
In the same way that in the vision Ezekiel could not see how the dry bones could possibly live, we too may come to a stage when we just cannot see the end of this terrible thing.
the Lord can change every situation, in a way that we do not expect or even do not dare to hope.
For the Jews it was the invasion of Babylonia by the Medes and Persians and the new Emperor Cyrus’ decision to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem after only 70 years.
The whole idea of Babylonian power being defeated had felt impossible for the Jews during their exile but suddenly, unexpectedly, they were on their way home
But we are left with the question: why did they have to go through all this suffering, only for the Lord to come to the rescue in the end? What was the point of it all?
Ezekiel describes God saying to him in the vision, ‘prophesy to the people of Israel’ (verse 12) ‘My people I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them. I will bring you back to the land of Israel…Then here is the key point….Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live and I will settle you in your own land.
Look I don’t think that God has sent this terrible virus to us. I don’t think he wants us to suffer.
But this story tells us: who God is and what he can do in all the circumstances of life that we face.
This story tell us that he is creator, that he is not limited by the natural world, that he made it and he can do with it whatever he wants.
And he wants us to live. He wants us to breathe the breath of the Holy Spirit verse 14 into us so that we know who he is.
Last week, we heard that the son of a good friend was in an induced coma, on a ventilator because of the virus. When this reality hits home in a personal way for us, we desperately call out to God for help.
All his friends have been praying continuously. And he is now breathing independently. It looks as if he has turned the corner. But now his father has it.
It’s only when we know God the Father that we can travel through this dark time.
Knowing God means knowing that we are loved by the Creator and that he can breathe life even into dry bones.
So there is no need for despair, despite the roller coaster ride of difficult times.
That knowing God is not knowing about him
But knowing him personally and knowing him like this means that any crisis becomes bearable, because he is hope and he is trustworthy.
This crisis is such an opportunity for us; for you; for me, to know Him personally
Do you know him yet?
Because if you do, you will know that he can be trusted and he is well capable of solving this corona crisis and all its effects on us and we can trust him In it.
So don’t despair, however difficult life becomes over the next few weeks, however dry your bones become, ask him into your life, after repentance and forgiveness, after thankfulness, as I said last week and allow this crisis to become an opportunity for your life to be transformed.
There is a prayer that we can say which will enable us to know God personally
Lets say it together now
Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things that I have done wrong in my life Take a few moments to bring before God anything in particular which is on your conscience Please forgive me.
I now turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank you that you died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set me free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me for ever
If you have said that prayer for the first time let me know by email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will pray for you
Prayers for 29th March 2020 During the peak of the Coronavirus by Lucy Pease
Heavenly Father we come to you with praise and thanksgiving, despite the distressing times that we live in.
We praise you because you know us and you love us. As Alex said in his talk, we are seeking to draw close to you; help us to know you as both Creator, for whom nothing is impossible, and as a Father who loves us. Our Father God, we beg you to forgive us for the times when we have gone astray and to remove the obstacles between us and you, caused by unconfessed sin. We are very sorry for not putting you first at all times and for the distancing of ourselves from you when life was busy and full of distractions. Help us to return to you now and thank you that you are always ready to embrace us.
We thank you Lord especially at this time for your creation. We only have to look, when we go for our daily exercise, to appreciate the abundant variety and generous beauty surrounding us. Help us to marvel afresh at the works of your hands and to experience joy in those moments; observing the birds, the unfolding blossom, the river or the light green foliage emerging with the onset of spring and the hope that it symbolises; that hope that we have learnt about this morning when God, through Ezekiel, breathed life in to dry bones.
Lord, we are sensing, as each day passes, the reality of the Coronavirus coming ever closer to the valley. Help us in these times to prioritise what is important to you in how we use our time. Thank you that with technology and social media we can remain connected to our families, friends and neighbours; that you have already defeated this virus in its attempt to separate us. We give thanks for all that the Parish Council and the Church are doing to encourage connections between neighbours. We are excited to learn of the fruit of these connections in the friendships that are being forged and the stories of generosity and love.
We ask Lord Jesus that you would be with every member of the National Health Service and other essential services. We pray for your provision and protection for all those working on the front line. Thank you for their sacrificial service. Give them, we pray, your strength, stamina and courage as they care for patients on an ever increasing scale. Help us, Lord, to support them in whatever way we can. Thank you for all the volunteers who have signed up to help the elderly, vulnerable and lonely, and for the reassurance that no-one will be forgotten.
We lift to you our Government and their advisors as they seek to minimise the loss of life whilst balancing the economic situation. We ask that you would guide them and inspire them with each decision they have to take and help us to trust that you are with them and with us. We pray for Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty as they self isolate whilst suffering from the virus. Please minimise their symptoms and heal them and we ask for your protection on them and all their families. We also ask you Lord to supernaturally speed up the production of testing and PPE equipment the Health Service so desperately needs. Please be with all those whose jobs are adversely affected at this time and help them to trust you for all they need.
Thank you Lord for your protection over Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip. We pray for them to be perfectly shielded at Balmoral from the virus. We lift Prince Charles to you for your healing and we pray Lord that no-one else in the Royal Family succumbs to the disease.
Lord there are some in our community who are already experiencing symptoms of the disease and others who have loved ones with it. We lift them to you and pray for your healing and for your comfort. We particularly pray for anyone known to us who might be at this moment in an ICU. Heal them Lord we pray. Help us and their families to hold on to hope. Return them to us. Lord Jesus, be with those who have already lost loved ones. Come to them in their grief. We know you are weeping for them too.
Merciful Father, hear us we pray, and accept these prayers for our sake, in the knowledge of your dear son Jesus Christ, who experienced all that we are experiencing when he died for us on the cross to save us. Amen.
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. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 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.”
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. 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. 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.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Eze 37:1–14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.