The legend near the very beginning of the Bible is that we are made up of earth into which God breaths life. It is a perspective which has pursued me since Lent began. Mud, animated by God.
I felt it using the words “remember you are dust and to dust you will return” as I marked people with a cross of ash. Going into Lent not in my own strength (“here is what I am going to achieve giving things up and taking things on”) but in a heightened awareness of a dependence on God (“here is where my nature cannot but fail and needs to be laid open to you”). Dust alone, unless breathed on by God.
I then reflected with people on the first Sunday in Lent how even modest acts of fasting may be intended to alert me not to how spiritually fit I can become by such a spiritual workout but to how earthly limited I am by my own appetites and habits. Human weakness, in need of the action of God’s spirit.
So what stood out for me the following Sunday was how the phrase sometimes a little mistranslated as “born again” actually sits in John 3.6 as “what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the spirit is spirit, so do not be incredulous that I say ‘you must be born from above’”. The resources of flesh alone, unless renewed by the original creativity of God.
Then Lent suddenly changed gear - all of us instantly re-aware of how vulnerable we are (as individuals who can get sick and as a society which can collapse) when a new virus gets loose. Fraility exposed, and hardly daring to expect anything from God.
So this Sunday what we are given is Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of desiccated skeletons, a place where some plague or slaughter must have passed by (Ezekiel 37.1-12). I half remembered it as a nightmare from which Ezekiel awoke crying “can these dry bones live?”. But, re-reading it, I see that it is God who asks Ezekiel that question. Ezekiel replies “God knows”.
“Play your part”, God says, “discern and tell this lifeless place to respond to the possibilities that I can make them live”. It takes more than one go. The first hints are a clanking sound as discarded bits of people began to come together. Ezekiel is urged to discern and tell again “God says ‘come breath and make these slain live’”.
Discern and tell our mud, our dust, our human weakness, our flesh, our frailty that it is ready for God’s animation, God’ breath, God’s spirit, the renewal of God’s creativity, God’s unknown future.
Discern and tell. First, the awful and almost necessary shock of human loss brought by the next crisis or disaster. Then, the distant noise which isn’t the storm swirling the detritus around but is human reconnecting already beginning to happen. Until, the God-breathed possibilities of new human flourishing comes.
The words are the reflection on Sunday’s Old Testament reading published on the Bronte Virtual Church blog. The Epistle included: To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8.6).
The picture is the box of Palm Crosses which it is just dawning on me current restrictions mean cannot be delivered house to house as I had begun to plan.