When we want to identify something, we look at it closely.
When we see someone we think we know in a crowded
place, we concentrate on seeing a distinctive face or clothing or
walk. To identify birds, we look at shape and size. How big is
the bird? Is it fat or skinny, long or short? Expert birders identify
birds just by listening to their song. Then they look at each
part of the bird: is its bill short or long, thick or thin, curved or
straight? What shape are the tail and wings?
One spring I went birding with an expert who led a group
of us into Central Park. I can now identify a white-throated
sparrow and a chipping sparrow. He taught me to pay attention
and look. But in my heart of hearts I must confess that I’ve
become skeptical about this common approach to bird-watching
for one simple reason: It’s fine for identifying species, but it fails
to recognize individuality in each bird.
Why might any bird-watcher care about different sparrows
of the same species? It’s more than simply a matter of paying
attention or being more patient; it is a matter of attending to the
uniquenesses of the different sparrows. Isn’t this the way God
sees birds? Isn’t it the way God sees us?
Ezekiel the prophet is brought by God to “death valley”: a
valley of dry bones. Ezekiel spends time walking through these
bones to the extent that both he and readers are left despairing
and desolate. But God wants Ezekiel to address them. God
speaks to the prophet from a perspective he cannot fathom: “Can
these bones live?” “O Lord God , you know.” Where Ezekiel sees
dry bones and death, God sees a living, breathing nation.
O God, open our eyes so that we may see as you would have us see. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Ezekiel 37 presents a vision of the dry bones that represent the people of Israel after the Babylonian invasion—the people have no life. God calls Ezekiel to see the devastation and to prophesy to the dry bones with the message that they shall live. The psalmist cries out from the very depths expressing both a need and hunger for God and a trust in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. The story of Lazarus’s death and Jesus’ raising him to life calls forth our own stories and experiences of life and death. It draws us in to a conversation that goes deeper than our intellect. It evokes our questions, our fears, our doubts, and our faith. The Romans text offers the good news that the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us. Each of these texts affirms life after death. Death is not the end; death does not have the nal word.
• Read Ezekiel 37:1-14. How has life come to you through death?
• Read Psalm 130. For what do you cry out to God? Pray the psalm, line by line, knowing that God hears and extends mercy and care.
• Read Romans 8:6-11. How has God changed your mind-set, your attitude, to bring you richer life?
• Read John 11:1-45. What in your world needs to die in order for life to come forth?
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