As the entire world is impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic, practicing social distancing and isolating, we are consumed with concern for the increasing confirmed cases and those deceased. Our scriptures are also consumed with the concept of death.
Ezekiel has a vision of dry bones within a valley, which I envision to be a remote desert similar to familiar spots in Arizona. These dry bones are the most extreme depiction of death, and yet God orders Ezekiel to prophesy that these may become covered in flesh again. But, something is missing.
In our gospel, Jesus receives word that a friend, named Lazarus, is ill. Jesus, however, waits several days until after Lazarus’ death before returning to Bethany, which is on the out-skirts of Jerusalem. Upon Jesus’ arrival he is moved, disturbed in spirit, and weeps in grief before ordering Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, to rise and come out. Lazarus does, but he is still bound.
As I pondered these scriptures, in light of these times, I recalled a segment from True Terror with Robert Englund. It shares historical reports and accounts of strange events, this particular story occurred in New Orleans in 1875 during the small pox epidemic.
A young man was declared dead, but he was alive and aware of his surroundings although unable to communicate. He was placed in a wooden coffin, loaded into a wagon, and it was departing for the local cemetery. However, a woman claimed to hear noises coming from within the coffin and annoyed the undertaker until he opened it. When the undertaker, named James Conner, opened it and witnessed the young man open and close his eyes, he placed the lid back on it and proclaimed that the individual was deceased.
This woman remained unconvinced. She gathered additional community members, who accompanied her to the cemetery where the young man was being buried. The community demanded the burial cease, the lid to be opened, and for all to bear witness to the status of the young man. The young man was alive and was saved.
Conner, as un undertaker, was paid per person buried not transported and thus the young man was a paycheck. At his trial, Conner argued that since the doctor had declared the young man dead, he was “dead enough to bury”.
The dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision were dead enough to bury.
Lazarus was dead enough to bury.
The dry bones, as God commanded through Ezekiel, rattled, were brought together, and flesh covered; but these were still not alive until God breathed life into them.
Lazarus, as commanded by Jesus the Christ, came out of the tomb, but remained bound.
We, like the young man, the dry bones, and Lazarus are dead enough. We are bound by sin, including but not limited to self-centeredness, frustration and anger, prejudice and hatred, anxiety and fear that bound us with guilt, shame, and regret that burden and trouble us in mind, body, and soul.
We, like the young man, the dry bones, and Lazarus, are dead enough as communities bound by sins, including but not limited to racism, nationalism, sexism, ageism, and social injustices including those rooted in the socio-economics, religious and non-religious adherence, sexuality, gender identity, and otherwise that bound us as communities, nations, and the entire world in our burdened and troubled minds, bodies, and souls.
This ‘dead enough’ is a tomb that God has, is, and will continue to call us forth from and into life that is truly LIFE. Life that is freed from the sins that bound us, hold us captive, and cause us to be dead enough to be buried without the hope and promise of resurrection.
When I envision the life that we care called into, the kingdom that is to come, I cannot help but to hear the lyrics of Garth Brooks’ ‘We Shall be Free’ echoing within my ears, heart, and soul. And so, I encourage you to ponder these words.
This ain’t comin’ from no prophet, just an ordinary man.
When I close my eyes, I see the way this world shall be.
When we all walk hand in hand.
When the last child cries for a crust of bread.
When the last man dies for just words that he said.
When there’s shelter over the poorest head.
We shall be free.
When the last thing we notice is the color of skin,
and the first thing we look for is the beauty within;
When the skies and the oceans are clean again,
then we shall be free.
We shall be free, we shall be free.
Stand straight, walk proud, ‘cause we shall be free.
When we’re free to love anyone we choose,
when this world is big enough for all different views,
when we all can worship for our own kind of pew,
then we shall be free.
We shall be free, we shall be free,
have a little faith, hold out, ‘cause we shall be free.
And when money talks for the very last time,
and nobody walks a step behind,
when there’s only one race, and that’s mankind, then we shall be free.
Stand straight, walk proud, have a little faith, hold out, we shall be free.
May we not be bound by the sin that causes us to be dead enough to bury.
May we be raised and called out from said tombs continually…
and into the life God has, does, and will continue to desire for us ALL…
and then we shall be free at last.