Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis' Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 5 Lent, 2 April 2017
RCL Year A: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11 ; John 11:1-45
I lay awake last night asking,
“Where have I gone wrong?”
A voice replied:
“This is going to take more than one night.”1
I enjoy the perspective of Charles Schultz’s quip about lying awake. He points us to our work this final week of our Lenten Forgiveness Forum when we explore how to forgive ourselves. He points us to our scriptures about forgiveness, about setting the mind on the Spirit instead of the flesh, which keeps us stuck in the past. He points us to our Gospel when Jesus tells us to let go what keeps us bound to the past.
Notice the graphic description we hear in Ezekiel: Bones rising up from a parched valley, sinews coming together. What sound like great sci-fi movie special effects are reality in Ezekiel’s day & our day. Ezekiel speaks to people living in exile whose hope is dried up – people living as if dead, dried up with human worries, human guilt.
Notice: God has Ezekiel prophesy to involve Ezekiel in the healing & new life of the people, as one Bible commentary notes.2 God calls us to breathe hope into others & to live again in hope ourselves when we dry up.
Notice what Jesus does in our Gospel when his friends grieve. His love overflows literally. It is a blessing to know Jesus is “greatly disturbed, deeply moved,” & sheds tears like we do.
When we fail to forgive ourselves, we mourn our losses & stay stuck. Forgiving ourselves can be hard. Jesus stands with us in this hard work. Jesus stands with his friends in our Gospel to help them through this hard time.
In tough times we may easily forget our Psalm points us to hope & the newness of life we hear God say clearly in Ezekiel:
“I will put my spirit within you,
& you shall live. . .
I, the Lord, have spoken & will act…"
God says this to Ezekiel, to you & me & all dry bones. God acts. We respond. God gives us the honor to work with God. When we prophesy, when we speak & do as God commands, life comes into dried bones in our lives & in us when we are dried bones.
If Jesus can weep at the grave & feel distress at death, we can too without feeling we are wrong. Keep death in perspective. Keep life in perspective. More important than, “Are you afraid to die?” is the question “Are you afraid to live?”
Remember: Ezekiel talks about people living as though they are dead. Bound up in lost hope, they are dried up with human worries. In Romans, Paul tells us about living now in the Spirit & not the flesh. Flesh worries. Life filled with God’s Spirit has right perspective on worries & knows God acts in our lives, we respond.
Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb. Lazarus responds, his hands & feet bound & eyes covered. Jesus says: “Unbind him, & let him go.” People respond.
Jesus calls us to “unbind & let go." Unbind yourself, your brother, your sister. Unbind & let go whatever you haven’t forgiven yourself for doing or not doing.
Think of what my friend says: “When life is so dark you can’t look forward, the past too painful to look back, look beside you: Jesus is there with you.”
Right after hearing this insight, I saw Monastery Icons offering a new icon, Christ the True Friend, based on a 7th century Coptic icon in the Louvre in Paris. You can see the icon I bought here on this stand on your way to Communion. It shows Jesus holding the Gospel in one arm & his other arm around a Coptic saint. Below the figures the words say:
“I call you my friends”.
Jesus calls you his friend. With our friend Jesus beside us, we can live in love through God’s capacity to love which is greater than our capacity to mess up. We can forgive ourselves & incorporate this learning as a resource to apply to future failings.
Know this: There is a difference between guilt & shame. Guilt self-assesses our behavior in light of our values. Shame self-assesses our very being. Shame says: “I hate myself for what I did.” Shame alienates us from the person we harmed AND our very self God created us / you to be. I alienate me from me!
Counteract shame by changing its demand quality into a preference: “I prefer that I would have/would not have…done whatever.”
“Forgiving does not erase a bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory….[F]orgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”3
Forgiving ourselves is doing what Jesus tells the people to do at the tomb when Lazarus comes out: unbind & let go.
Let God’s Spirit dwelling in you breathe life into your dried bones. God loves you so much that Jesus dies on the cross for you & the Holy Spirit chooses to live in you. Who are you to keep beating yourself up about the past? Forgive yourself! Speak love to yourself!
Take a moment & be aware of God’s Love. Despite whatever sin you recall, remember we have made our confession today & been forgiven by God. Let yourself be held by God’s Love & be at peace with yourself & with God….
As you rest in God’s vast Love, ponder this: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure...We [are] born to make manifest the glory of God [which] is within us. It is not just in some of us. It is in [each of us]. As you let your light shine, you unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”4
Shine your light!
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2nd Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Biblica Americana. 1983.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
New Oxford Anontated Bible with Apocrypha. Eds: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 1977.
La Sacra Bibbia: Versione Riveduta. Societa’ Britannica & Forestiera. Roma: 1990.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010. “Teaching Forgiveness” www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.
2 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 691.
3 Ibid. Voyles quoting Louis B. Smedes. P. 69.
4 From “A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson. Quoted by Voyles. P. 71.