Fifth Sunday in Lent Yr A March 29 2020 (2nd week of “Safer at home” COVID-19 order)
Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45, Psalm 130
This passage from Ezekiel happens to be one of my very favorite passages from the Old Testament, among many actually. And, I think this story of dry bones speaks into the place we find ourselves today, this place of seeking connection in a chaotic and disconnected time.
Many of you know that I just submitted my Doctoral thesis, and therefore know that the subject of the thesis is a conversation between dystopian storytelling and scripture. One of the stories I have been living with for some time now is a zombie story, Warm Bodies. Although not technically dystopian, it is a brilliant story of love and connection in a dark and chaotic world. It speaks to where we are today.
What causes zombies is always an important part of any zombie story. Zombies are mostly created by catastrophe, nuclear fallout, and disease. This zombie story, Warm Bodies, takes us to a new place. A world where human lives are made up of disconnection and disinterest causes zombies, resulting in disintegration of the body, and the mind, and the spirit. The prophetic warning is real. Human interaction and relationship at a profound level is necessary for human life to exist. Human connection and relationship with God is vital for living fully alive. Without it, humans become violent and base creatures who no longer have any moral or ethical values, and then it becomes easy to drop bombs that kill innocent civilians and to ignore climate change that is leading to the loss of many species, both plants and animals. Human connection to one another and to the sacred and holy is necessary for human life to be lived fully. Without that human connection, disease, disintegration, and decomposition ensue. The evil one in this story is not so much embodied, as disembodied and disseminated. The beast becomes humanity itself—humanity that is decomposing, literally falling apart, because there is no more interaction, no more relationship. In Revelation, the beast is the personification of malevolent power; in Warm Bodies, the beast is the power that pulls humans away from one another. It is the breakdown of communication and connection resulting in distrust and hatred of one another.
The sin in this zombie story is not the ugliness of zombies and what they do; the sin is forgetting what humanity is, forgetting who individuals are. Each of the zombies are known only by a letter. Their names, who they are, and who they were connected to has all been forgotten. As our main character R begins the transformation back to human again, as he begins to be connected again, he begins to say yes to life again. R thinks to himself, “. . . we’ll see what happens when we say yes while this rigor mortis world screams no.” R resists the decomposition of the rigor mortis world, and others begin to accompany him on that journey—the very antidote to disintegration.
You see, it is the cultural narratives, the personal narratives, and the biblical narratives that we remember and tell one another that connect us and can possibly give hope in a dark world. When we forget these stories, when we forget who we are and to whom we belong, rigor mortis sets in.
The Great Battle in this zombie story is fought against the skeletons, called “boneys,” and it is a battle worthy of the book of Revelation. But in the end is the realization that the beast or the skeleton or the zombie is really of humanity’s making. R found literal new life in connection and in love. He led those like himself to resist the greed and hate that power or apathy rained down on them until their souls hit rock bottom, and the only way out was to be put back together again.
In Ezekiel, idolatrous behavior demanded punishment, and so the glory of the Lord departed from Jerusalem. Once that defilement was removed, a new temple would provide the focus for a restored Israel. It is idolatrous behavior that causes disintegration and disconnection in Warm Bodies. Humans thinking they are in control, they are godlike, is idolatry, and this has been true since Adam and Eve were in the garden. The particular idolatry added on top of that in Warm Bodies is the barrier put between humans causing disconnection. In this modern world, that is represented by the lack of conversation, connection, and depth of living due to obsessive and sometimes narcissistic use of social media. Zombies in Warm Bodies are placeholders for isolation and alienation.
But Ezekiel’s vision that we read today, The Valley of Dry Bones, demonstrates how God, THE powerful integrating force in the universe, will always bring the beloved back from oblivion, even if the beloved is the one responsible for running headlong into oblivion in the first place.
God gives a second chance, new life, and resurrection. It is only through love and connection, and the One who calls us into integration, wholeness, and healing, that we can be saved from ourselves and the beasts without and within. It is love that makes us human and it is love that connects us to God. Hope is where God reaches out to humanity to lift us out of our disintegration into wholeness with God and healing with one another.
God raises new life out of what looks like death. Both in the Ezekiel story and the gospel story God brings new life out of death. And that new life comes from God in our midst, Jesus. Jesus calls us to community, and connection. We are in this peculiar place today, something that might feel apocalyptic, but really we are being called to love in ways we have not had to before. We are being called to love our neighbor by not being with our neighbor. We are called to love our neighbor by being joined together in new ways. God can raise the dead, God can put us back together again so that we may be reconfigured as the body of Christ. In a political climate of division, and a cultural climate of hate, God calls us to be raised to new life. May it be so. Amen