Take a Breath
Advent 2 – Narrative Lectionary 4
December 10, 2017
Grace, Mankato, MN
Ezekiel 37.1-14; John 20.19-22
I think one of the worst feelings in the world is being cut off in a relationship, especially an important one. Something happened a number of years ago with a former parishioner that still bothers me to this day. A relationship that was deep and mutually encouraging ended abruptly and I don’t know why. All attempts I made to try to communicate were met with silence and I’ve been left hanging since. I ask myself, “What did I do wrong? Why won’t you talk to me?” Frankly, the situation left me devastated and I didn’t know what to do.
So it is that my singular experience may help give us some insight into what the Jewish exiles felt in our reading from Ezekiel. It’s about 600 years before Jesus comes on the scene and the Jews are in Babylon (modern day Iraq). Ezekiel was carried there during the First Deportation when the king, princes and some others were taken after being defeated. Since then the Jews have tried to rebel again. The Babylonians crushed them, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and force marched nearly everyone into exile. Initially a laborer in Babylon, Ezekiel is called by God as a prophet to speak to their hopelessness and despair.
A big chunk of Ezekiel’s message doesn’t seem helpful. He utters words of judgment against the exiles. It’s the prophet’s “forth-telling,” the naming of sin and brokenness that led to their situation. His message may seem akin to bayoneting the wounded on the field of battle, but it’s necessary to be honest about how they ended up there. At the precise time when the exiles felt utterly cut off from God, even wondering if God exists, Ezekiel speaks about a vision of restoration what will breathe new life into their relationship.
600 years later, a motley group of men and women will find themselves cut off, dried up, and hopeless as well. This time the Jewish people are exiles in their own land under that heel of the Roman Empire. Some, like his disciples, thought Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would save them from oppression. He would turn out to be the Messiah and save them, just not in the way they anticipated. Meanwhile, Jesus appears to them, breathes new life into them and pronounces peace upon them.
It’s doubtful that new life will be breathed into the relationship with the former parishioner, though one should never put restraints upon what God can and cannot do. Even so, it’s helpful to recognize that the new life foretold by Ezekiel and present with Jesus doesn’t mean going back to the way things were or changing what is. Rather, the breath of God brings a new way of being. The Jews will go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, but both will be quite different. And Jesus’ disciples, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, will be sent out on God’s mission to love and bless the world.
Advent is a time to anticipate the presence and peace of God through Jesus Christ and today we are told we are no longer cut off from God, that God is as close as our next breath. That promised presence gives hope to all of our relationships and peace for our spirits. Amen.