Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.(Psalm 130.1-2)
Perhaps you have seen a movie that shows a character falling into a body of water, a swimming pool or perhaps the lake where the family is taking summer vacation. There is an initial shock or struggle to swim, but eventually, the character resigns himself or herself to their “fate” and sort of drifts effortlessly along, as if taking a stroll in a water garden. Of course someone reaches into the water and saves the individual from their time of blissful peace, but for a moment, it was almost like life in the midst of certain demise was nothing but peace and comfort.
Psalm 130 is not that moment. In fact, none of the passages we read today are that moment. They are, collectively, moments of fear and doubt. They most likely include struggle in the face of what appears to be the end, but yet we long for that not to be the case. In our minds, there is no possible way life can change for us, yet we discover through the power of God, it does. Let’s look at each passage individually.
In Psalm 130, I get the picture that the writer is struggling against certain doom. He is in the depths because of his sins. The picture of “the depths” is an appropriate one, I believe. If you have ever been in a situation where you thought drowning was imminent (I have), there is nothing peaceful or blissful about it. You are in an all out struggle to find a way back to the top of the water. If you take lifeguard training, one of the dangers they repeatedly warn you about is not drowning itself, but the people who are drowning. They are in a panic and will try anything to keep from doing so, even if that means taking you down with them.
Notice the writer of the psalm does not blame poor choices or even a life in which he was dealt a lousy set of cards. No, the problem the writer is facing is of his own doing, yet he longs to find rescue.
Ezekiel is taken to a field of dry bones. Obviously life is not found in abundant in such circumstances, yet the Spirit of the Lord asks Ezekiel: Can these bones live?
Let’s think about that for just a moment. I am not sure how many “come-back-to-life” stories Ezekiel had experienced. I know there are some such stories mentioned in the Old Testament, but they do not seem to be an everyday occurrence. I do think, however, that no matter how many of these stories he might have seen, since the field was full of dry bones, life was probably the last thing on Ezekiel’s mind.
Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “the wages of sin is death” (6.23). This is the same guy who just a couple of chapters earlier mentioned: “all have sinned” (3.23). So if all sin and sin leads to death, well, the outcome of this equation does not seem like a good one, does it?
Finally, Jesus comes to the tomb of Lazarus and seeks to bring him back to life. Martha, seeing the world through the only lens she knew to look through, that of her own experiences, is quick to point out her brother Lazarus has been dead for four days. You can read her mind: Jesus, if you had been her the first or perhaps the second day, maybe there would have been a chance, but four days into this death and you might as well be talking to a field of dry bones. It ain’t happening.
What would you have done in any of the four situations we find in the readings for today? Would you doubt the ability of God to rescue you? Would you have thought the odds were just too much against you for things to change? Would you have given up and tried to accept your fate in a scene of bliss?
Whatever your circumstances, remember these things. Though you may feel your sin is overwhelming and so numerous they drag you down, God can deliver you from them. Though you may see nothing but dry, dead bones in your life—in whatever situation you find yourself—God can bring life to that which has been given up for dead. Though your sins may seem deadly pulling you completely away from any hope of a relationship with God, nothing, absolutely nothing separates you from his love. And though every experience you are familiar with seems to indicate the impossible cannot be done, God hasn’t even started so take away the stone.
•If God does not keep a record of sins, why do we spend so much time doing so? How can we better condition ourselves to trust God’s ability to redeem us from our sins?
•Describe a time in your life when you were as good as dried bones littering an empty field. How did God breathe his life back into your life?
•Do you think people often think about the wages of sin before engaging in them? Why do you think this is the case and how would things be different if they did? How can you cling to God’s gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus more?
•Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead is the seventh of seven signs he does in the gospel of John. Why do you think this sign resonates so much with the people who read John’s gospel for the first time and why do you think is resonates for us today? How do we keep from assuming that someone, some situation, or perhaps even our own faith is dead and so far gone it is doing nothing but rotting in a tomb?