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Hoping against hope

By Scott Baker

Most faith communities have fittingly suspended all gatherings in hopes of helping control the spread of the Coronavirus, many of us are praying our prayers, doing our devotions, and observing our spiritual disciplines in the privacy of our own homes. Many are gathering in online virtual communities. Others are taking advantage of the plethora of spiritual resources on the internet. To say that we are in unchartered territory would be the understatement of the decade; of the century? For those of us who are sacramental churches, the inability to gather for the Holy Eucharist is truly a challenge and a deprivation that is almost too difficult to endure.

We still have the Revised Common Lectionary that remains a bulwark and solid ground for the faith communities that use them. The scriptures appointed for the fifth Sunday in Lent could not come at a better time. The Old Testament lesson tells the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones. It is a scene of utter desolation and hopelessness. It is not the valley of the shadow of death, but literally Death Valley. Yet, God shows his prophet Ezekiel just what the power of God can do even in the face of utter desolation. God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones and he brings a multitude of living breathing people into being where before there was nothing but death. God brings life and vitality into being out of nothingness.

The gospel appointed for the fifth Sunday in Lent is no less impressive. Jesus shows up to the graveside of his dear friend Lazarus. Lazarus had died some days before and Jesus and his disciples go to offer condolences to Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ friends. He reminds Mary and Martha and the crowd gathered that God is a God of the living and not of the dead. He reminds us that God wishes for health and wholeness for us. Standing outside of the tomb, he calls Lazarus back to life. Lazarus miraculously emerges from the grave, wearing his funeral shroud and stands among his friends and family alive and whole and all are astonished and awed.

During such unprecedented times such as these last couple weeks and the weeks to ahead we need to hear the stories where God brings out of desolation, life and vitality. We need to be reminded that there is a brighter day in our future. It is in times like these that I recall one of Winston Churchill’s famous quotations. It is reported that he said during the bombing of London, “Do you know what you do when you’re going hell? You keep going!” Goodness knows one doesn’t wish to stop moving and get stuck in hell. We keep going and claim that there will be new life and a new day on the other side of the pandemic.

God is an awesome God! If he can bring life to a valley of dry bones, a beloved friend back from the dead, and a dear son out of a three-day tomb after one of the most gruesome deaths imaginable; surely he will bring new life and new horizons on the other side of COVID-19. In the meantime, we pray and care for each other and hope against hope for the dawning of a brighter day.

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.