From Out of the Depths

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 29th of Third Month, 2020


Scripture: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 37:1–14


Good morning, Friends!



Psalm 130, NRSV:

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

2 Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my supplications!

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,

Lord, who could stand?

4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

6 my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!

For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

8 It is he who will redeem Israel

from all its iniquities.


“Out of the depths we cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear our voices.” There is a lot to cry

out about today, and those cries come from a very deep place. We have already given voice

to some of those cries in our sharing of joys and concerns. This has been one of those

exceptional weeks when the cares of our particular circle of Friends and the troubles of the

world at large have both been particularly intense. Early in the week came the news of the

sudden and untimely loss of Brian Rodgers, a friend to so many in this meeting and many,

many more in the Richmond Quaker and musical communities. And then just last night,

we heard of the passing of Ruby Shaw, beloved mother of Ruth Brown, who had been in

hospice care for some weeks. We mourn the loss of both these Friends, that loss being made

even more difficult because we aren’t able to gather together to bid them farewell in person.


And for me, this week was the week that the COVID-19 crisis became real; maybe this

is true for some of you as well. I have been paying attention to the situation for weeks now,

marking the seriousness of the threat, and trying to understand the implications for me

personally and for our community. Thus far, thanks be to God, no one who is part of West

Richmond Friends locally has become ill, that I know of. And we’ve been working to respond

as best we can.


Two weeks ago, as just about all of you know, we suspended face-to-face meetings.

Much of the time since then has been spent in trying to figure out how much we can do

remotely for worship, and fellowship, and pastoral care. Thanks to a really stellar bunch of

people who have worked together tirelessly, we’ve been able to get this Zoom thing going,

and this morning, our first semi-programmed worship online is the fruit of those labors. (By the

way, this group is now called TLC—the Technology & Logistics Commitee; its members are

Katie Breslin, Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, Ruth Cutcher, Jim Grace, Welling Hall, & Hoot

Williams. Many thanks to each of them for their work.) There are still plenty of things to figure

out, but I feel like we’ve made enormous progress.


So having all that work to focus on has helped my frame of mind, just because there

was something to do. But then, on Wednesday of this week, I heard that Colin Saxton, a

friend to many in this meeting, has been exposed to the virus and has the symptoms. His wife

Janine may also have the virus, though Colin has been doing his best to isolate himself at

their home in Oregon. Thankfully, his symptoms aren’t too severe. But other Friends also

have been taken ill, apparently exposed at the same event in Iowa that Colin attended; at

least one of those Friends is in the ICU, in very bad shape.


So it wasn’t until it was someone I knew that was sick that this truly became real to me.

That was the thing that brought me to the depths—that primal place that the Psalmist writes

about, in the Psalm that Lyn read at the beginning of our time this morning. In the Hebrew

Scriptures “the depths” are often meant to evoke the waters of the sea, a place of chaos and

danger; in another place, the Psalmist writes, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up

to my neck!!” (Ps 69:1)—it may be the same feeling here in Ps 130, a need to be saved from

an imminent, overwhelming danger, like unto drowning.


A danger that is so intense that there is a chance that God might not hear, above the

roaring waters—hence the repeated appeal, “hear my voice! Let your ears be open to my

cries for mercy!” (v2). I think that when most of us pray, we speak the words in a

conversational tone, or a whisper, or just form the words in the quiet of our hearts, and we are

confident that God hears. Few of us ever sees the need to pray at the top of our lungs. Yet

this is the situation of the writer of this Psalm. He, or she, is in a place of such desperation;

such grief; such isolation; such unknowing, that it seems hard to imagine that prayer can

reach God from that place.


And while I still don’t feel the need to shout my prayers, I think this is the kind of place

we find ourselves in today: a place of...

...uncertainty and fear in the face of a massive public health crisis;

...a place of isolation and separation from one another and from community of all sorts;

...a place of grief and mourning, for beloved Friends who have died this week.

That’s the kind of place that “the depths” are.


The pain of isolation and separation is a theme that we see, not only here in the

Psalms, but elsewhere in the Scriptures. The isolation and separation of exile stands out

particularly, in the history of Israel and in the writings of the prophets. Exile forms the

backdrop to our second Scripture reading, the words that Jim read from the prophet Ezekiel.


Ezekiel was a prophet, but also a priest, and a pastor of sorts, to an exiled people. He

was among the first group of captives taken into exile when the Babylonian Empire

subjugated Jerusalem in the late sixth century BCE. Ezekiel’s group included the best and

brightest—other religious leaders like him, as well as their king, Jehoiachin. Their forced

removal, and the resulting dislocation and trauma, is the context for all of Ezekiel's words. The

trauma was intensified when, in 586, the Babylonians invaded Judah again, sacking

Jerusalem, putting an end to the House of David, and destroying the Temple. In the midst of

all this, the Judahites in Babylon were trying to make sense of who they were, as God's

people in exile; and they were also trying to make sense of who God is. In the passage that

we’ve heard this morning, their trauma and dislocation is summed up in verse 11, where the

people, the bones of of the whole house of Israel, lament: “Our bones are dried up and our

hope has perished—We are completely cut off.”


Ezekiel, like all the other Hebrew prophets, has plenty of condemnation for his people.

Most of the words that God gives him to speak are unsparing; in his theological

understanding, the exile has been visited upon the Hebrew people because of their

unfaithfulness. Yet even in the darkest hour, when the exiles have heard of the destruction of

Jerusalem, and it feels like there is nothing but a valley full of dry bones, God gives Ezekiel

the words of comfort that we now read.


So when the people say, “Our bones are dried up; that’s it, we’re finished,” God's

response, repeated five times, is “You shall live.” God’s life is associated here particularly with

breath, with wind, with spirit: God says, “I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to

life.” So I notice that, as Ezekiel begins to speak God’s restorative word, the rattling bones

come together, and then the sinew and the flesh are knit into them; so the words bring the

body together. But the Spirit is what ultimately gives life, once the prophet calls it from the four

winds. I believe we’re meant to remember the role of the Spirit in breathing life into Adam at

the creation; that breath, that Spirit, had the same vital animating role for Ezekiel; and it has

the same vital animating role for us, in our present isolation and separation from one another.


The faith of the Psalmist is that God will hear, even if we need to shout our prayers.


The vision of the prophet is that a broken and dried-up people can yet live, even when they

feel that all hope is lost, by the power of the words of God and the Holy Spirit. This faith, this

vision, can also be ours, even as we find ourselves in the depths.


Now, please don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that everything is going to be all

right by Easter, and we’ll be able to pack the meetinghouse full by then, and normal life will

resume the following Monday. We are people of faith, but we also need to be clear and

unflinching about the realities here. There will be more of Good Friday in Easter this year than

we are accustomed to.


It is likely that things are going to get harder for all of us before they get easier. We

need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that we will lose more treasured members of our

community in the weeks and months ahead. We will need the faith of the Psalmist and the

vision of the prophet to make it through the exile of isolation and separation.


And as some of you have already heard me say elsewhere, we are going to need each

other more and more as this crisis wears on. So please, reach out to one another in as many

ways as you can: call, write, e-mail, get used to using Zoom if you can. Pray for one another.

Pray for folks you might not normally (you know, the people you think are OK and don’t need

prayer—let’s assume that we all need prayer). And shout those prayers if you need to.


And in all this, remember the words of the Psalmist:

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

6 my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.


One of the blessings of this uncertain period is that a lot of us have more time to wait.

So let us wait on that One in whom we hope. And as we wait, let us trust that we will

encounter the redeeming, re-animating, re-uniting power of the Spirit, the breath that gives life

to dry bones.


This document is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license, available at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/. You are free to copy, distribute, display, and perform this work, as well as to make derivative works based on it, as long as: 1) you attribute whatever part of this work you use to the author, Brian C. Young, by name; 2) you do not use the work for commercial purposes; 3) you distribute your resulting work only under the same license or a license similar to this one. -6-


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