March 2018  
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March 11, 2018

“Breaking Barriers: Life and Death”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Ezekiel 44.1-7

Ephesians 2.1-10

March 11, 2018

            Through Lent we have explored various gates and boundaries. One we haven’t yet talked about, is a gate we will all pass through but we will only do it once – the gate of death. The boundary between life and death is a final one. Only a handful of people have been resurrected according to the Bible. Obviously Jesus is the one who comes to mind first. Lazarus was also resurrected. Jesus called him out of the tomb after many days of lying in stench. We know that we have been promised the hope of resurrection but this is a different idea of life abundant – it is not walking and breathing on earth like Lazarus supposedly did, but a new phase after death – a new gateway of sorts. It is one people have tried to explain but no one has ever been resurrected in a physical sense to tell about it. Resurrection gives us hope.

            The Ephesians passage tells about this boundary of life and death, but less in the literal sense. The author considers seeing death and life as our old self and our new self. The old and new represent boundaries within ourselves – a before and after story. This message is one that is more hopeful than we would anticipate during Lent – which tends to be a gloomy time.

            So, first, we begin with the more depressing news – that death is the equivalent of sin. The death spoken of here is a death to what God intended for us. This is a death of a relationship because we choose to follow our own selfish desires and the ways of the world instead of following God. In many ways we mourn the plans God had for us because we stray from them. God has big plans for us but we often choose sin, changing the outcome. So, rather than participating in the abundant life God has given us, we are dead to that which God calls us in the world. That is certainly a Lenten message.

            The death is the before. God’s grace is the boundary breaker. We do not deserve God’s grace. We did not do anything to make God give us this amazing gift. God gives us grace because God loves us. This grace changes the outcome of death – destroys it – and creates the after – the life after death. Even though we are disobedient the Spirit works within us. God shows “the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” God’s grace is so packed full of surprises and goodness that we cannot quantify it. In many ways God’s grace is unexplainable. God is rich in mercy and loves each and every one of us. Our God breaks barriers – between us and God, between sin and grace, between before and after – offering us an abundance of possibilities. God is in death and in life and everything in between.

            That message is not one we expect to hear during Lent – it is more of an Easter message. We cannot jump too far ahead of ourselves because we do not want to miss Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, but perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to offer some hope in a difficult time. Perhaps it wouldn’t be terrible to shed some love in a world that is hurting. When we are going through the disciplines of this season and are struggling with faith and where God calls us, and then we experience national tragedies on nearly a weekly basis, and we lose loved ones around us, we could use a little hope. We could use the joy of the resurrection.

            Maybe we can even use a little laughter. As I was reading my Christian Century this past week the editor featured multiple limericks for Lent, which I thought were appropriate for this week. Written by Christopher Brunelle:

Are limericks suited to Lent?

Yes indeed, in both form and intent:

They’re a well-designed ploy

To bring insight and joy

With a final, uplifting event.[1]

            Maybe Lent is that “well-designed ploy” that makes us look at life in a new way, examining who we are and what needs to be altered in our lives, so that we are ready for that “final, uplifting event.” That event might be Easter, or our own resurrection experience. I’m not sure any of us is ever “ready” but perhaps we can live our lives in ways that make us feel as though our lives have been lived to the fullest – abundantly – and that we did not miss an opportunity.

            We are called to participate with Christ in this passage. We will live together with Christ and we are raised up with Christ. The term “with” means that Christ is right by our side and we have a responsibility in this event.[2] We tend to think of the resurrection as a future event – something far away. We might preplan our burials and imagine our funerals, but we don’t always think of resurrection as something that happens now. When, in reality, resurrection is something we can respond to now.[3] God’s realm is happening now, and we see glimpses of it in the world. Jesus has been resurrected, and we are called to respond to that resurrection. One response is by participating in Lent – we spend the time growing closer to God and follow God in our lives. We look ahead to celebrating the resurrection. We take time to deny ourselves certain habits or practices so that perhaps we can really appreciate the world around us that God has so graciously created. Lent gives us perspective so that we can respond with joy in the world. How will you respond? Will you break more barriers? Will you show that grace that you have been given?

            The Ezekiel passage is a little more difficult – maybe a little more Lenten than the Ephesians passage. God is speaking to Ezekiel and showing the inmost gates of the holy place. God has shut the gates – no one is to enter except a ruler. God tells Ezekiel that only specific people can enter this holy place – and strangers are not welcome.

            The cover of your bulletin was taken at a checkpoint in Israel. To enter Israel there are many checkpoints along the borders. It is typical to see soldiers with guns. I had never seen a rifle close up before going to Israel, and was unsettled every time I walked by a teenager casually walking with a gun slung over his shoulder. To go through the checkpoints can be tedious. If you are on a bus, the Israelis enter the bus, check under the seats, and ask for documentation. If you walk through a gate like this, it can take hours as people wait in long lines where they are searched and asked for paperwork. It is clear that not everyone is welcome.

            What does this scripture passage mean? How does this match up with other scripture? God is constantly and faithfully telling the people – and us – that we should welcome the stranger. The Israelites were strangers in the wilderness and in Egypt. God reminds them over and over that they should remember the strangers because people helped them when they were strangers. We are expected to do the same. How can we talk about a God who loves all people and welcomes them, but sets boundaries on those who can and cannot enter the holy place?

            In the time there were some issues with broken covenants and people – strangers – who had destroyed temples and holy relics.[4] This might be a response to what happened when the Israelites disobeyed God and what was holy was wrecked. It might seem a bit like a knee-jerk reaction, though. God does have those, though. If we think back to the story of Noah and God wiping out creation with a flood, God apologizes at the end and promises to never do this again – setting a boundary on God.

            Perhaps God is setting new boundaries to see how they are tested. Really, the ruler is the only one allowed in the holy place. How many rulers would we trust in this holy place? How many of us would feel worthy to enter? This passage talks about a very physical place, but God is everywhere. God is not bound by a temple or a church or walls. God is with us in every moment, sharing radical grace in unexpected places. We are expected to share that grace with others and to remember to welcome the stranger and to mess with boundaries, for God’s grace breaks the biggest barriers that separate us and creates us new again, giving us hope. Thanks be to God. Amen.


[1] Christopher Brunelle, “Limericks for Lent” Christian Century (February 28, 2018, Vol. 135, No. 5), 3.

[2] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 157.

[3] Ian S. Markham, “Ephesians 2.10-19” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 114.

[4] J. Galambush, “Ezekiel” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 561.