It's probably safe to assume that I'm the only person present today who is sad enough to subscribe to the Church Times....!
Recently that trade rag ran a 4 part series, a Health Check on the C of E.
Though there were many happy things to celebrate, overall the picture was not too bright.
We might not yet be staring the Grim Reaper straight in the eye, but nobody could claim that we are exactly hale and hearty.
Look around at the churches of Stroud.
There are pockets of life – but an awful lot that is struggling, weary, dying...
And today we have 2 readings that speak to this situation, as surely as they have spoken into situations of decline death and decay through millennia.
Let's start with dem bones....dem dry bones
Scattered in the valley, the aftermath of some terrible battle perhaps
A grim reminder of mortality, of the brevity of our time here
Just a heap of bones – with nothing to tell the stories of the people they once were.
And then...Then Ezekiel prophecies as God directs....and gradually, impossibly, the bones begin to come together. And he speaks again and they put on flesh once more. And finally the Spirit moves and they return to life.
Living and breathing
A vast multitude...the dead restored...
Fast forward to our gospel reading – and once again the dead live.
Jesus calls his friend Lazarus back to the land of the living – and tells the astounded onlookers to unbind him.
Called in to new life by his Saviour and Lord, he is still confined, constrained by the trappings of death.
That made me stop to think.
Are there things that still bind us, as individuals, or as a church – even when we have heard the voice of Jesus calling us back to our selves, inviting us to enter into the fullness of life and joy he offers...
I'm sure there are for me...I wonder what they might be for you?
The duties laid on you by the expectations of others?
The heavy weight of yesterday – the limitations we impose on ourselves when we allow ourselves to carry on believing an unkind word or hasty judgement from decades past...when we take on another's judgement as our essential truth?
Fear of failure?
Or the equally pernicious fear of success?
There are many things to bind an individual...
And there are as many that bind the church
Nostalgia for a lost utopia – a golden age when churches were full to overflowing and God and politics marched hand in hand
Attachment to beloved buildings that prevent us from re-imagining our worship in ways that make sense to the lost generations
Determination to focus on unity at almost any cost
And more fear....
So much fear.
If a stranger walked into our worship this morning, I wonder what she would see?
Bodies trapped in grave clothes?
Or people living the new life for to which they are called?
We know, each one of us, that God calls US to fullness of life...that his passion for us is expressed in 100% perfect love.
It is that love that can breathe life into our dry bones...that love, casting out fear, that calls us from the darkness of death to walk free in the sunshine once again.
It is that love, too, that can transform the Church – which is, after all, not ours but God's....
So, on this Passion Sunday, let's pray that God will once again pour his love into our hearts, that we might live transformed by his Spirit and share that love and that life as signs of his kingdom where dry bones live and the dead are raised to newness of life.