The Mysterious Presence that is God!

Some years ago Susan and I were invited to a celebration dinner for some friends in our congregation.  I can’t remember the actual event – a significant birthday or other milestone.  The dinner was more formal and we were seated at a table with a couple of people we knew and several we didn’t.  The conversation flowed around general topics as happens in such circumstances, as people work one another out.  Through the evening conversation revolved around a particular couple’s son.  He seemed to be a well-known person as there were comments about media and the like.  As I listened in I had the sense I should know who this person was but couldn’t quite put it all together.  The stories were interesting but I couldn’t quite work out who it was until a point where someone said something and everything clicked into place.  I suddenly realised who it was they were talking about and even remembered previous conversations with the guests of honour about this person.  It was just one comment or observation that brought everything into focus and clicked for me.

There have been several times when I have seen or been in the presence of ‘celebrities’, the well-known faces of stage, screen or sporting field.  There was the time, years ago, when we were walking along the city footpath and mum noticed Paul Hogan crossing the street.  He looked different, without the TV make up and his usual odd TV attire.  We had to closely and it was in some distinct gestures or movement that really gave him away.  Often it is only in the gesture, the walk, the nod of the head or the sideways glance that confirms our suspicion or overcomes our confused wondering – is this someone we do or should know?

In other situations I have felt or sensed the presence of someone in the words, gestures or actions of another.  An experience of one person opens up a whole memory of someone else and the words of both meld into a common language of meaning.  Sometimes I am drawn out of myself and this present experience into something deeper and more profound.  Some years ago a group of us were leading a service at a local nursing home.  In the middle of a hymn staff moved to one of the residents, an elderly man who had never been involved and, I later discovered, hadn’t spoken for some time.  This day during one of the hymns he began to sing and the staff were amazed and called each other to come and listen.  Something drew him out of his silence, probably taking him back into another era of life and loosened a memory that became real and present and broke through his dark, silent world.

This is the story of a couple of disciples or followers of Jesus in our story this week (Luke 24:13-35).  They were walking away from Jerusalem to their home village.  Along the way they were joined by this mysterious figure who was able to talk to them about all the events of Jerusalem, events that had grieved the, scared them and turned life upside down.  It is in such situations where an unexpected, sudden event changes everything we know and understand that we are left bewildered, afraid, confused and lost.  We don’t know where to turn or what to do and we have to pull ourselves together and struggle to find a way forward into a new place in life.

These two people were wrestling with life that has taken a new direction, one that seems less than anything we expected.  They cannot fathom why things happened as they did.  Why would Jesus be killed?  He preached love, peace, justice, inclusive community and that God reached out to all people to embrace them into Divine love and grace.  Jesus was not only a good person but holy, profound and the most deeply spiritual person they had ever encountered.  Why would Jerusalem leaders have him killed?  Why would Rome be concerned about this vulnerable, simple Rabbi?  How could God let this happen, for surely God was in this one!!??

As they walked they were joined by another figure who asked questions and then responded to their grief and confusion.  He put everything together to demonstrate how God’s ways are deep, true and wondrous but also thwarted by humans who lust after power and wealth and use violence to get their way.  The words of this one held them captive and opened their fearful minds to new possibilities despite their grief.  The one they met went to move on but was invited into their home and they sat down to eat.  The stranger took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the couple.  Their eyes were suddenly opened and they knew the presence of Jesus in this mysterious guest.  They knew Jesus in the breaking of bread within this household community.  They knew him in this present moment in their midst.

For Luke’s community living nearly 6 decades after Jesus’ death this story provides a living testimony to the presence of God, the Spirit of Christ, in our midst as we gather together and engage in life together.  In the midst of life, with all its struggles, joy and pain, God is present, embracing us into a web of love and grace.  It is when life throws up the puzzling, difficult and impossible questions and we wrestle together through tears or grief that God is a comforting, mysterious presence in our midst.  We can’t always define or even understand how God comes to us.  Sometimes it is in the people we meet or who come to us and offer gracious words or comfort.  Sometimes it is in the gentle licking of the puppy or the wonderful aroma and beauty of the unfolding flower or the bird song and wonder of the local creek flowing through the local bush.  Sometimes the sunrise or sunset, the moon and stars and the world in all its beauty that cries out God’s name in the nature-song of praise.  Sometimes a story, a movie, and always in a shared meal where bread is broken and wine is shared.

The story of Emmaus is the story of God-presence that comes to us in mystifying, mysterious and wondrous ways to embrace the world in a love that sets us free from the bonds of grief, greed, violence and hopelessness that seems to pervade so much life.  We are invited into a new way of being that is communal, relational and life-giving for all people.  It is about love, generosity, justice, hope and peace.  It is for all people and it is the Easter Story of promise!

One commentator suggests that Emmaus never happened but always happens.  It isn’t a story we should relegate to history and leave ‘back there.’  It doesn’t work as a ‘proof text’ for resurrection either.  It must live and be the story we know and live and embrace within our lives.  As we gather around a table to eat and talk, laugh and cry, plan and work, God is present and in our midst.  This mysterious God cajoles us into deeper life that is richer and filled with joy, inclusive community and justice for all.  It is a way of love that works for the well-being of all and the common good of the world.

By geoffstevenson

Love Enters the Chaos of Life!

There’s a story of a grandfather visiting his daughter and very young grandson.  They are playing in the living room and the little fellow, a toddler, is full of beans.  He is hyped up because granddad is here and he runs everywhere. He starts to show off a bit and do things his mother has been carefully trying to get him not to do. She gives him the warning look and the firm ‘no’ of a long-suffering mother but he continues. After another warning she picks him up and puts him into his play pen.  This way he will not be able to climb on the furniture, run around  or touch those things he knows he shouldn’t.  As soon as she sets him down, his face drops and he begins to cry.  The tears roll down his face and he wails.  The mother utters a few words and then leaves the room to start dinner. The boy looks at his grandfather with a pleading, begging, helpless look.   Caught in the middle, granddad feels sad, feels the little boy’s grief and wants to help, to fix things.  Surely the little fellow has got the point by now.  Surely he doesn’t have to endure more.  It is breaking granddad’s heart watching and listening to his grandson.  When mum comes back in he pleads with her but she refuses to give in and gives her father a warning look about interfering.

When she leaves the room again he doesn’t know what to do.  The boy’s distress rises and granddad’s does as well.  What should he do?  He can’t interfere with his daughter’s parenting but he can’t ignore the boy’s distress.  Finally he makes the only decision he can.  He gets up from his chair.  He walks towards the play pen and his grandson.  The boy reaches out to be picked up but he ignores the outstretched child’s hands.  Instead of lifting the boy out, the grandfather gets into the playpen with his grandson.  The boy comes over and hugs him close.  After a bit they play together and the world seems okay again.

The grandfather couldn’t fix the situation as the boy wanted so he entered into the boy’s situation and sat with him there where he was.  Grandad entered the child’s distress to be with him and share his isolation.

I thought of this story when I read, again, the story of this week from John 20:19-31.  It is the night of the first day of the week, Sunday.  The evening of the morning when Mary and the two disciples discover the tomb opened and empty.  Mary encounters the Risen Christ who appears to her but not in a state she can hold onto and cling to.  The disciples are hiding away from the world.  They are in a room with doors and windows locked for fear of those who arrested and killed Jesus; that they would come after his followers.  They were hiding in their grief and perhaps shame at having left Jesus to endure alone.  In this locked room they were lost in the darkness of life and the confusion and disorientation of grief and pain.  They were locked off from everyone and everything.

It was into this locked room, this darkness and crisis that we hear the story of Jesus appearing, materialising in their troubled presence.  He offers them peace in the midst of the pain.  This is a deep and profound peace that comes from the one who was tortured and killed on a cross.  It comes from beyond humanity, beyond life from the heart of God who stands apart from and intimately involved in human life.  The peace that Jesus offers is peace that transcends the powers of this world and their deathly abuse.  This is peace from beyond transcending life and death to infiltrate the human life and experience and lift us into a new place.  It is peace exemplified by the Reign of God and focuses its power into the depth of human life.  This is no empty word or light-hearted greeting.  This is the first word of the Risen Christ to those who followed him and constitute his followers, his people.  The disbelieving, uncomprehending disciples are confused – no they’re flabbergasted, discombobulated, turned upside down and inside out.  The grief lurking deep in their being is overwhelmed by the sheer improbability of resurrection, new life and life transcending death – aren’t we all??!!

As I read I am profoundly moved by the graciousness of this act of Jesus, coming into the midst of grief and pain, fear and confusion to be with them in the hardest moment of life.  He doesn’t fix everything.  There is the very real sense that what was can’t be again – the Jesus who walked and talked and taught and healed… won’t be in that space.  He is different; a body who enters locked rooms and offers peace that transcends everything!  What they expected of the future will not be what the future becomes – Jesus in front and them following into some new glorious way.  It will be them together and him there but in some other mystical and strange way, a presence in and through and around – a ground of being in whom we live and breathe and have our being.

Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive a Holy Spirit…’  He them commissions them to repeat this act of peace-giving and restoration to new life in a new world under the Reign of God – whatever that will mean!!??  This act of breathing the Spirit upon them re-enacts the original story of creation in genesis 2 where God breathes the Spirit into the earth-man, adama.  It is prefigured by the Spirit that hovers over the chaos and disorder in the beginning, bringing forth a new order and life.  This act of Jesus is the recreation of a new order in God where we are invited into a oneness in God, to live and find life and hope within the presence and life of God.

The second part of the story contains the well-known story of ‘Doubting Thomas’.  We are told Thomas was not present the previous week and won’t believe until he sees, feels, experiences…  In this story we have Jesus enter into Thomas’ experience that he may believe.  Faith, however, is not constituted in seeing and believing but trusting and we are affirmed to find trust in God whom we cannot see, nor touch nor fully comprehend.  It is in the stories, the community, the life we share with others amidst the beauty and wonder of the world that we encounter glimpses of the ever-present God who is with.

It is tis God who enters our ‘playpen’ and sits with us in the chaos, strife, pain and crisis of life.  Not ‘fixing’ it all up but sustaining us, nurturing us and encouraging us to keep going.  It is this love and grace that engenders trust and hope and draws us more deeply into the life of God that is more profound and wondrous than we can comprehend or even contemplate.  This is Easter!

By geoffstevenson

The Journey Through Life to Death to Life Again!

On Thursday of this week I visited the Stations of the Cross Art Exhibition at Northmead Creative and Performing Arts High School – a collaboration with Northmead Uniting Church.  It is, once again, a wonderful exhibition that takes us on a journey from Jesus being sentenced to die through his death to resurrection and his mystical and wondrous presence with disciples and communities then and now.  The art is extraordinary and produced by very gifted artists who have wrestled with the Christian texts to interpret and ponder the meaning of life and death, of mortality and the suffering of the world under evil, injustice, hatred, greed and the pain of life.

The art has left an impression upon me and the tour conducted by Rev Dr Doug Purnell, the co-curator of the exhibition and the drive behind it, helped me wrestle, once again, with this story at the heart of Christian faith and one which serves as a deeper metaphor for all life and death and the struggles we face in the world.  The setting is remarkable in that it provides a progressive movement around the auditorium so that we are always in the presence of each part of the story and all the works reveal something else in one another – there is an inter-relatedness to the parts of the story that the works seek to reveal.  The movement is around the room but also invites us back across the room to re-experience other parts of the story as we continue to move forward.  This is life.  We always experience movement back and forth, dying-rising, falling-getting up to fall again.  We encounter people on our way who help us and lift us up and we them.  There is relationship to the story of our lives as it mingles with the lives of others and shares something of their story, interwoven into a tapestry of life with all the joy and pain.

The Stations of the Cross breaks the final journey of Jesus into 14 parts, some from the Biblical narrative and other parts from memory, imagination and life.  This journey begins with Jesus being sentenced to death and moves through carrying his cross, stumbling, falling and being helped to carry his cross.  He meets his mother and the women of Jerusalem reach out to him.  Veronica wipes his face with a cloth and their lives mingle and touch each other in this intimate act.  Jesus is beaten, nailed to a cross to die, and laid in a tomb.  It is a story of pathos and poignancy in which we contemplate the injustice as the powers of life and world rise up against Jesus who represents God’s way of love, justice, inclusion and life for all.  The powers are threatened, greedy, fearful, controlling and overwhelm love by nailing him to a cross.  These powers are religious and secular, Jerusalem leaders and Rome’s servants – Governor, soldiers, guards…

As I walked around the Stations I was struck by the depth of the story because this isn’t just about Jesus.  In his life and death he encapsulates all of our lives and deaths.  His living and dying embrace all of our living and dying.  I saw the news of the recent days – Syria’s civil war and the attacks by Assad on his own people; the response of violent raids by the US; the politicising and posturing by Russia and its ruthless, cold-blooded leader Vladimir Putin.  I saw suffering and death in Somalia as people starve through famine.  I saw the violence in our city and the grief of people mourning loss.  I heard the cries of those who are hungry and thirsty and felt the yearning of people for life and hope.

The artists drew on their own experiences and engagement with life in all of its joy, wonder and struggle; they wrestled with the existential questions of life and death, mortality and what happens beyond death.  They poignantly portrayed the mystery of suffering and death and its finality and all-inclusive nature.  They asked the questions that we ask, openly or in the quietness of our own ponderings.

I was left with a sense of the vulnerability of life and people and the commonality of struggle where we are all really in the same boat even though some want to pretend they aren’t with the rest of us.  The boat becomes a coffin in one piece – perhaps a place of rest at life’s end.  Maybe it is the place to store the body no longer useful as the spirit leaves and the sack of bones is the earthly remains.  Jesus died.  Jesus was buried.  End of story?

Station 15 is a simple affair, a piece of installation art.  It is a door with one handle and it is constructed in such a way as to allow us to see a door that has been slightly opened – it is a door ajar.  Is the door opened from outside or inside?  If so, by whom?  How?  What does it mean?  The women in the story of Jesus went to prepare his body for proper burial but all they found was an empty tomb.  The disciples hiding away in a locked room encounter the risen Lord entering into their space and lives and then disappear from their sight.  The friends on the road to Emmaus experience this mysterious fellow who appears near them and shares the story they don’t comprehend.  Their eyes are opened when they invite him to share a meal and he breaks bread with a blessing – this is Jesus!  He disappears but is with them in the mystery and wonder of resurrected life.  Paul encounters this same risen Christ as blinding light and a voice from beyond calling him to see anew and follow.  The door slowly and slightly opens and perhaps we peer through.  What do we see?  How do we see?  How do we respond to this mystery that perhaps there is more than we comprehend and know?  How do we respond to the possibility that what is, isn’t really – well not everything and there may be more.  The door stands ajar but you and I can only walk through if that is our choice.  Only we can choose what we will do with resurrection, with a door ajar, with this hope and life given in love.

As I pondered the mystery of resurrection and Station 16, ‘Jesus comes to Warmen today’, I understood this as the Emmaus Road story where Jesus appears to disciples in their actions of sharing a meal and life together – Christ is in our midst, where we are.  This piece is breathtakingly beautiful and is delicate fabric sewn carefully together to give a stunning experience when I take the time to look.  It is a story of grief, of the death of a husband and how a wife remembers and lives beyond death.  There are layers of meaning, of hope and life, of joy mingling with the sadness of grief but enlightening the person so that we don’t really know what she thinks or feels or whether the wings of angels lift her up and the light of the risen Christ entering the room fills her being with something more.  We see levels and layers to grief and life that are held in a grace that can’t be easily described.  There is a peacefulness to this work that is deep because it comes in the midst of remembering and it feels good.  God is in this but I can’t be literal and say exactly how and where God has come to this person because God is always there, an ever-present reality holding each and every one of us in grace and love.

Through the Easter Story I understand that Love is beaten, persecuted, nailed to a cross, killed but never destroyed.  The world can do its best to overwhelm Love but God is always and ever more than we can imagine.  Love lives eternally because God is Love!

By geoffstevenson

Who/What Will You Sing For???

The very first game of football (the round ball code – soccer) I watched after joining the Western Sydney Wanderers as a member 5 years ago won me over.  At one end of the field was a large group of people colourfully displaying the red, black and white of Wanderers.  They began to sing and dance as the game began and they didn’t stop until the final whistle – well, they did have a break at half time.  They sang, danced, clapped and cheered through the whole game.  There was no doubt who they were gathered for and what they had been preparing for.  This was their team, representing their lives and the people of Western Sydney.  It was fabulous and lifted the crowd, the team and brought a brilliant atmosphere to the whole event.

At one point they looked out at one side of the ground, at one of the grandstands.  They pointed to us and yelled: ‘Who do you sing for?’ I didn’t quite know what was happening but soon caught on as others around me pointed back and yelled: ‘We sing for Wanderers!’ This happened four times before they jumped up and down clapping and dancing.  They then pointed to the other grandstand and did the same thing.  After that they pointed to everyone and the whole place erupted in singing for the Wanderers – except for the visiting fans of the other team.

I thought about this question, ‘Who do you sing for?’ as I read the reading for this Sunday, Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11).  It is the day we read about Jesus entering into the city of Jerusalem for the Passover festival and ultimately where and when he will be crucified a few days later.  The story only tells of Jesus’ side of things.  It only tells of how he entered the Holy City on a donkey, innocent, vulnerable but hailed by the crowds as king or Messiah – the Promised One.  As the story portrays things he is the least likely looking Messiah or King.  Humble on a donkey of all things.  There is no army, weapons and the only pomp is the people laying down cloaks and waving branches and singing out to him.  Their cries were ‘Hosanna’, which might infer something like ‘Save us!’ It was a deeper cry than ‘We sing for Wanderers’ but had the same intent of naming who they aligned themselves with.  For this people: who was their king, their hope, the one they would trust their lives with?

What is missing in the story is the part that everyone of the time already knew, that which didn’t need to be said then but is necessary now.  The part of the story we miss because we are so far removed from this ancient culture is that Pontius Pilate, the Governor of the region under Rome would also enter the city that week.  Passover Week was one filled with religious fervour and foment.  It was a celebration of the ancient and formative story of their people when Moses led their ancestors out of Egypt, out of the oppression from the Egyptian Pharaoh over their people.  The Jewish people of Jesus’ day longed for liberation from the Roman occupation in the same way as their ancestors longed for liberation from Egypt.  Zealots and fanatics rose up and caused unrest and uprisings during this religious festival as their hopes and dreams and passions took over and their lack of freedom fuelled anger and violence against Rome.  In the midst of this religious festival, Pilate was expected to bring the rule of Rome, the power of Rome’s armies and he would quell violence and unrest, arrest trouble-makers and maintain some semblance of peace and order.

At some time during this festival, possibly at the same time as Jesus was riding into the city, Pilate would enter from the other direction.  He would ride in on a war horse, a large stallion decked out in regal and military array.  He would be accompanied by Rome’s armies, soldiers on foot and horseback.  The clatter of marching boots and horse hoofs on roads, of leather scraping leather and the clanging of metal filled the air.  Trumpets and heralds would sound the cry out that Rome was here.  There was pomp and ceremony all geared towards a show of power and might to conjure fear and warning into the heart sof the people – of anyone who might just consider unrest!  Rome’s armies came with might and violence, weapons and force to maintain their peace – peace at the end of a sword.

So we have two parades entering Jerusalem.  One of power, might, violence, fear and threat.  The other a picture of vulnerability, humility and peace.  One the might of Rome represented by Pontius Pilate, the Governor!  The other a simple Galilean rabbi called Jesus who represented the Reign of God.  He brought no armies, no weapons, nothing but love, vulnerable love.  He came singing a new song where all had a place, an inclusive reign where all were welcomed for who they were.  He came singing peace and justice, a song of equal distribution of resources across the earth – enough fo all!  He came singing a song that embraced all people and so threatened the rich, the powerful and those who controlled the world.  The status quo of corrupt and abusive power who maintained their way through violent threat and murderous action were on the other side to Jesus and didn’t like his song or his singing.  They didn’t want justice if it meant sacrifice on their part.  They didn’t want peace if it meant giving up some control or power.  They didn’t want equality if it meant being treated the same as everyone else.  They didn’t ant Jesus!

Two men, two songs!  Who will you sing for?  Will you sing for Rome and the Emperor or for God’s Reign represented by Jesus?  Will you sing for this way of justice and peace or for the way of oppressive force and abusive, violent power?  Will you sing for this one or that one?  Who will you sing for?

The crowds caught the vision, the dream, the gentle revolution of love from the heart of God.  Their hearts soared as they listened and believed and yearned.  They were filled with hope and joy and they sang Jesus’ song as he wandered slowly through their midst on a donkey, the symbol of peace and gentleness.  Their king who was not a king pointed to God and this way of profound love, justice and peace.  Who do you sing for?

As the week rolled on, the crowds rejoiced in their celebration and the forces of darkness, the powers of the world grew darker and more intense and intent on destroying the one in their midst who would dare disturb their ‘peace’ and their way of power and control.  They rallied the troops and conspired.  They planned and acted against this one who would send them up, disturb their peace and speak a truth against them that felt like slander and lies and rubbish that would ruin everything they had worked for, striven for and held dear.  This troublemaker had to go and that is the story of Easter – except that love can be hurt, wounded but never destroyed.  Love will always rise up from the ashes and live again.  Love will find a way because it is born from the heart of God.

So who do we sing for?  Do we sing for the ways of the world in their violence or greed or displays of power?  Or will we sing for love and the way of peace in God?

By geoffstevenson

Can These Bones Live???

Through this season of Lent I have referred to the theme of water quite often.  I also mentioned wind a few weeks ago – that the Spirit of God is like wind that blows where it will.  This week water and wind came together with tumultuous and destructive force and affect.  The cyclone, Debbie, that devastated Northern Queensland and the impact of which has been felt in major flooding through southern Queensland and northern NSW blew through our land.  Wind and water are vital to our life on this planet but the raw power of nature’s uncontrolled fury is quite staggering and sobering.  The images of devastation are bewildering, as are the stories of people who lived through this catastrophic event.  I find the stories overwhelming and incomprehensible, having never experienced such raw power and uncontrollable forces.  Now there is vast flooding and a massive clean-up operation.  There are people who are despairing and confused, who have lost much or don’t know where to begin in rebuilding their homes, farms and lives.

Amidst the water and mess is desolation and tears, courageous people standing their ground and those who are looking for some hope for the future.  All the resources at the disposal of governments, service organisations and charities, including many churches, have been released to provide the immediate and long-term help and support that these communities need.  We know that towns and cities, homes and lives can and will be rebuilt.  We have the capacity to rebuild much of that which has been lost.  That doesn’t deny the pain and suffering of so many people but points to the reality that we have capacity to rebuild lives that experience such devastation.

In other places where there are other stories of hurting people and broken lives, rebuilding may not be so easy.  For those who have lost friends of families in these floods and cyclone, a return to what was is impossible.  Throughout our world there are many such places where the pain and torment that people experience cannot be undone, rebuilt or restored to what was.  In towns, cities and nations where warfare and terrorism occupies the centre stage, the pain and suffering is incomprehensible.  Innocent and vulnerable people seek to escape and find refuge in merciful places.  Others are caught in conflict and bear the wounds – sometimes even unto death.  Frightened and damaged people flood out of homelands in search of peace and safety for themselves and their families.  Others join the fight, allowing their rage and fury to be brought to bear on anything or anyone perceived to be enemy and the wars rage on to more devastating effect.  Starvation and struggle abounds and the scent of death fills the air.  Fear pours out of people’s skin and all hell is unleashed.

I cannot conceive of these things, of war with all its hellish horror and evil.  I haven’t been there and quite frankly don’t want to go there.  Some have lived through its nightmare and others looked on in the aftermath of broken lives and post-traumatic lives.  The impact of war and terrorism on ordinary, innocent people is overwhelming.  I received a link this week to the MH17 Memorial in The Netherlands.  It commemorates the 298 innocent people in the plane blown up by Russian Separatists in 2014.  It comprises trees planted for each of the people – a living reminder of the pain of death and the struggle of human life in the desolate places where the barrenness of struggle overwhelms and taunts us.

We stand in the shadow of the cross as we edge slowly closer to Good Friday and the story of the world’s darkness embraced into the heart of God.  It is a black day but one filled with the hopeful yearning that darkness and death is not the whole story, not the end of everything.  We look through Good Friday to Easter Day.  Sometimes knowing the end of the story at the beginning doesn’t help us.  We need to experience the journey and reflect upon our own struggle and capture the images of Good Friday’s despair, grief and pain within our own experience and that of the world in which we live.  We need to be there before this wretched cross as it symbolises the dark despair and desolation that comes us in parts of our lives and fills so much life in our world.

As we journey closer to this dark cross, we encounter stories along the way.  This week there are 2 such stories.  The first is a strange and confusing story told by John (John 11;1-45).  It is the story of the raising of Lazarus, a resuscitation of a man dead.  It is a confusing and strange story filled with all manner of odd twists, turns and puzzling detours.  Ultimately there is death in a tomb surrounded by grief and in the midst of this lifeless community Jesus proclaims life.  He calls into the tomb that surrounds and contains death and says: ‘Come out Lazarus!’ Lazarus still bound in the clothes of death stumbles out and the people are told to unbind him.  Life arises out of death and overwhelms the hopelessness that people know in their bones.  I wonder where and how we might encounter the words of Jesus, ‘Come out!’ I wonder how and where we might be still and quiet enough to hear words of life exhort us to give up death and all its ramifications and pain to live anew in God’s grace?  What might this mean?

In the second story an Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel, speaks of a vision (Ezekiel 37:1-11).  His homeland has been devastated by warfare at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  The king and his army has destroyed the city of Jerusalem, along with its wall and Temple.  The leading citizens and craftsmen have been taken off to Babylon and exist in exiled helplessness.  The mourn and grieve their homeland and the images of catastrophic death and destruction linger in their minds.  The Babylonian army was brutal and nothing was left.  The Jewish armies lay as lifeless bodies strewn across the valley and there is nothing to hope in.

Ezekiel’s vision takes him into such a place where dry bones lay lifeless through a desolate valley.  God confronts the prophet in the vision asking if these bones can live?  Can they?  Can our bones lives?  When we face catastrophe and desolation in life we may ask of ourselves or of others: ‘Can these bones live?’  Can they breathe again?  Can there be life, breath or even laughter ever again?  In the vision Ezekiel is told to tell the bones to re-form and then for sinews and muscle and skin to form around the bodies and the wind of God’s Spirit blows through the valley rattling bones and bringing life.  When the remarkable event is over the breath of God breathes life into the bodies and they live!  God tells Ezekiel that this valley represents the nation of Israel, lifeless, hopeless and futile.  BUT, God will breathe new life into the nation and life will flood into their being.  It will take time and there will be a journey and struggle.  It will require courage and work but life will come because God is in their midst.  God is in our midst, whether the threat is wind, water or something else.  God is with us!  God breathes life into our communities!

By geoffstevenson