What is sacrifice? Where does our faith really lie? Why is it so much easier to live in doubt and darkness, fear and fright, rather than hope and trust? These are the questions I have often asked myself in times that were good and not so good. But they were never the questions I thought I would have to address in a pandemic. Everyday, the answer is different, mostly because every day the circumstances seem different—day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment—what I thought I knew when I woke up will be vastly different from what I think I know this afternoon. The rapidity of change coupled with an ever-present sense of the unknown invites anxiety and discord into what once seemed a well-managed, even if chaotic, life.
Now, more than ever, the waters of chaos churn around us. The deep threatens to drown us if not through illness and disease, through economic loss, through grief and despair, through frustration with all that we once could count on, all that we once relied on. The enemy lurks all around us and even as we have rallied to this call to fight by sitting down and streaming our devices, we find that those too are limited by their capacity. The internet is slowing down and our options are limited.
Last Sunday we experienced significant buffering issues through our various platforms by which we broadcast church. As the week progressed, we learned that Facebook, YouTube, and other streaming platforms could not manage the amount of traffic and increase in demand placed upon their systems especially on a Sunday when a significant majority of churches streamed either live or recorded services. The internet went down under the weight of a church we have deemed irrelevant and obsolete. How often have I heard that the church is dying? Well, last Sunday the church was alive and well and it seemed that the internet became the thing obsolete and unable to maintain relevance.
When our faith relies on the things of man—the internet, technology, even science, it will know death. To set the mind on the Spirit is to recognize that there is something more, something worth refreshing your screen over and over again when it buffers in the middle of church. To set the mind on the Spirit is to yearn for human contact and companionship even if the only way to achieve it is through the internet. When the internet goes down, we will find another way because it is not technology that connects us it is our spirit—the Spirit given each of us when we were created—the spirit of life and energy that flows from God through all of us. That is the Spirit that will connect us—it is the true web we can rely on. That is the Spirit that brings new life and purpose to us even when our bones have dried up, and our hope is lost, and we are cut off completely.
At our staff meeting via Zoom this week, I asked the staff to share some new way of being they had experienced this past week; how it had brought them new life and nourished their faith. We talked about how many people were outside enjoying spring—children riding their bikes, couples out for a walk, dogs dragging around their owners. There were those of us who were learning new technology and those of us who were experiencing new technology. We were interacting with more people on our website and than we had before albeit in new and techy ways.
There were those of us who talked of the regeneration of creation—dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice, blue sky in China. There were those of us who talked about new focus or a realignment of priorities because we had less distractions to contend with or now had taken on even more responsibility such as being a parent and a teacher. And we began to wonder with all these new things we were seeing and becoming what might make life different in the future when the pandemic is over and we can all come out of our homes again.
And Ezekiel prophesied to the bones and said to them, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live…and you shall know that I am the Lord.” “And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a cloth, Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”
Breath enters and we are given life—that is God’s part of the job. But that doesn’t limit our responsibility in all of this. Jesus tells us to unbind him and let him go—what are we bound by? Technology, the internet, accomplishment, failures, work, appearances, money, power, desires? We have a unique opportunity to pause for a moment and look and see all that has bound us to the flesh of this world so that we might begin to unbind ourselves. God is breathing new life into our dry bones. Jesus is calling to us to “come out!” Even Paul in his letter to the Romans is telling us that “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
We are a people of the resurrection. This year, our celebration of that is going to look a whole lot different. Its going to look like new life—new ways of being, new ways of staying connected and we will stay connected because we already are through the Spirit of God which dwells in each of us.
I hate that your Facebook feed is buffering and timing out and that our services are less fulfilling in this new on-line format. But I love how much you are trying to remain connected. Your love for one another and your resilience is grounded in Christ and shines a light of hope into a dark and desperate world for all to see. Your broadband capabilities—the ones that stem from your heart—are greater than any Wi-Fi network or streaming platform can ever know. Unbind yourselves and be let go. Amen.
Lent 5A: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, March 29, 2020
Rev. Candice B. Frazer