During my years as a psychiatric chaplain, I frequently had very vivid dreams that would entangle my every day with my love for urban fantasy novels (and tv shows) and with my theological pursuits. In these dreams I would have to solve some unsolvable puzzle or complete some heroic act which would result in the world being rid of all evil. Were these dreams influenced by providing spiritual care to people in the midst of psychiatric crisis and my frequent feelings of helplessness? Yes. On the other hand, I found hope in them as well. No matter what monsters or demons I fought in my dreams, failure was never a possibility nor was giving up. In my dreams I found the courage, strength, and ingenuity I needed. My dreaming self was always tenacious and often triumphant, though it was not unusual for me to wake up before evil was contained.
Why talk about these dreams now? For the last several nights, I’ve had similar kinds of vivid dreams. One I had to coach an army of Sisyphean-like people on how to keep moving the stones even when they rolled back or the mountain peak seemed no closer. In another my task was to stand at the mouth of a cave and call all faith-filled people to come out, that their time to hide in the Platonic cave had come to end. Last night I had to find a way to unite a million people who had never met without them ever meeting. If I accomplished this task, a million more people would not die and the earth would enter a new age.
Once again these dreams are an odd blend of life, urban fantasy, and theology. The response to COVID-19 ranges from willful ignorance to preparing for the apocalypse. While some are able to ignore all signs of crisis, most of us are dreading the likelihood of illness and more death than we have seen in recent history. Apocalyptic language makes a degree of sense. However, I am a dreamer of dreams and receiver of visions. I see hope when most people speak of despair and desperation. I think of Ezekiel and his visionary valley and of Lazarus walking out of a tomb and the promise of God’s steadfast love allows me to take a deep breath. Preparation is helpful; panic is not. New life is the birthright of the people of God. This is not to say that faithful people have not or will not be included in the millions who will die from COVID-19. Faith is no protection against any virus. The promise of new life is lived out in community.
It’s rare that we witness a true turning point in society or in church and are aware that it is indeed a turning point. Nearly every aspect of life will be different after COVID-19. Church life will be different after this crisis. No matter how we resist the changes necessary to remain in community while “sheltering in place” or in a “lockdown,” church needs to adapt to what is faster than church has ever adapted to anything. I believe the church universal has been in serious danger of being the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision. Our reluctance to change enough to meet the needs of the world around us meant that we were dying, slowly, but dying nonetheless. And, yet, the breath of God is still capable of creating new sinews and flesh on our bones.
I have had an inescapable vision haunting my waking hours and influencing my dreams. In the midst of this crisis, I hear Jesus calling the church out of the tomb we have inhabited. I hear Jesus calling us to let go of so much that has unnecessarily defined us and enter into new life. God’s steadfast love for the whole of Creation cannot be undone by a virus. Even though many of us may die, the church will yet live. However, we must not be tied to worshiping in buildings or in familiar sanctuaries. We must not think that the story of Holy Week and Easter only has power in sanctuaries crowded with visitors and lilies. The story of God’s amazing love, love that can overcome any destruction and devastation humanity can dish out or experience, can be told online by virtual connection. In the middle of world-changing crisis it is possible for the church to be transformed and brought to new life.
In these days and weeks where we are physically distancing from one another, we have an excellent opportunity to bridge the communal and spiritual gap. We can respond to Jesus call and come out of the valley with new sinew and new flesh on our old, dry bones. We can move out of the tomb of traditions and experience transformation and resurrection into a Body of Christ as yet unknown and unrecognized.
In these fear-filled and uncertain days may we all be dreamers of dreams and receivers of visions powerful enough to bring life in response to death. May we find hope in the steadfast love of God. Wherever you are be safe, be well, be church.
More sermon help here.
RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 29, 2020