Leader to Leader, Ministry

When Life is Lent

April 11, 2017 | Posted by Ken Chitwood

As we turn from Lent to the celebration and season of Easter, it is tempting to think that Lent is over. But for some of us, life is Lent. 

In the book, “City of God: Faith in the Streets,” Sara Miles wrote, “Lent is the world we live in.”

Suffering, decay, and death surround us. Anguish, sadness, and penitent reflection seem the order of life. For those confronting a debilitating disease, prolonged divorce, natural (or human-made) disaster, or an unexpected death — LIFE is LENT.

Thus, it can be understandable when some of us have no concept of God’s promises, don’t trust that things will work out, or believe that God has abandoned us to a life without hope. So, we despair. We doubt. We slip into a metaphysical depression when faced with difficult times, daily crises, and the specter of death.

The prophet Ezekiel lived in a time of despair, destruction, and death. Judah was going to be laid waste. Israel was going to experience deep pain. These nations were soon to be “dead,” deprived of their land, their king, their temple, and dispersed for so long that unification and restoration seemed impossible. They would despair. They would doubt. They would slip into a life without hope.

So, God gave Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones as a signpost of hope, a symbol of restoration, a sermon that promised a future.(Ezekiel 37:1-14)

God transported Ezekiel to a valley — often a symbol of the shadow of death (think Psalm 23) — full of dry bones and directed him to preach a sermon (I feel for the guy, I’ve preached to my fair share of dry bone audiences). Ezekiel was to tell the bones that God would make breath enter the bones and they would come to life, just as in the creation of man when He breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7).

At Ezekiel’s bidding, the bones jerk to life and come together. Skeletal limbs clatter and snap, sinews twist and twine around them, flesh blossoms and sheets of skin crawl up and down. The bodies stand, the dead have risen…but not totally. The bodies are still cold and quiet, like zombies fromThe Walking Dead.

God tells Ezekiel to summon the spirit “from the four directions of the world” and the sacks of bone and flesh are fully revived — “a mighty army” once again.

The reviving of the dry bones signified God’s plan for Israel’s future national restoration — both physically and spiritually. It showed that Israel’s new life depended on God’s power and not the circumstances of the people. What’s more — this vision is for you and me as well.

Despite our best-laid plans, copious talents, most advanced technologies, vast fortunes, or fancy programs for outreach the hope that these things can bring is but a skeleton. A rattling, barely standing, vulnerable tower of dry bones…lifeless, without vitality, leaving us living in Lent.

Into this moment, interrupting this sentiment, the message of Ezekiel’s sermon to the valley of dry bones is this — the only way for hope to be fulfilled is to be filled by the mysterious spirit, and breath, of God.

The wind and the Spirit of God are unpredictable forces. They do what they will. They are wild and wonderful. Uncontrollable and powerful. Life, resurrection, restoration and hope may not come when we expect, or even when we want them to, but whatever difficulties may arise, whatever disaster befalls us, whatever ways death ensnares us…HOPE IS COMING. And it isn’t embodied in some valley of bones, it is embodied in none other than the risen Jesus Christ.

May we be revived by the Spirit of God today. Wherever we are at. Whatever feelings of death, decay, or despair we may harbor in our souls, may God’s breath, his wild Spirit, fill us with hope. May his mighty wind pick us up so that we may be resurrected, revived, and sustained for the road ahead — today, this week, in this life, and the next. Amen

Ken Chitwood
Ken Chitwood is a religion scholar, Ph.D. student, and graduate assistant at the University of Florida studying ethnography of Religion in the Americas and global Islam with emphases on globalization, transnationalism, and immigration. Chitwood is a forward-thinking Lutheran theologian, preacher and popular speaker who weaves together historical context, societal exegesis, and a fair dose of ironic humor. He enjoys ultra-distance running, well-placed sarcasm, craft beer, bike-commuting, traveling, hiking, camping, and rugby.