Friday, September 28, 2007

The Valley of the Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

Ezekiel tells a wild story, although if we compare this with his fiery wheels in the sky and those beings with all the eyes and wings, this seems tame.

You got your valley of dry bones, you got your prophet told to preach, you got your reanimation of the bones – all pretty clear. Take away the God part and you’ve actually got yourself an old Sinbad-style army of the dead rising up to attack the adventurers. Or maybe a zombie movie.

Preachers dream and talk about this passage with each other. Some say they feel like Ezekiel every Sunday morning, preaching to pews full of deadened parishioners. They conveniently ignore how dead things dry out fastest in a hot wind.

Others may fantasize about the sermon, the one that stirred the passion of the people and moved them so much the revival resembled a valley of the dead come to life. Maybe one day.

Back to Ezekiel. When God shows Ezekiel the valley of dry bones, he asks him, “Mortal, can these bones live?”

Ezekiel has had several visions by this point and knows the right answer. “Oh Lord, you know.”

At God’s command, Ezekiel begins preaching to the bones. The spirit of the Lord will come upon you, he says, and you will be re-formed. As he speaks, exactly that happens. Dry bones become bodies of flesh and blood.

But they are lifeless. They lack breath, and in this case the Hebrew word we translate “breath” is the same word we translate as “spirit” in the Genesis creation story.

Interesting. God said the bones would become living beings again as they re-formed and the breath of life entered them. They’ve re-formed, but without breath of life or life itself.

God then tells Ezekiel that he needs to prophesy to that breath, so that it will come into the lifeless bodies. Ezekiel does, and this breath moves and completes the resurrection. It echoes the creation story twice: The spirit of God moves over the waters as creation begins, and the lifeless body of the first man lives when God breathes into him.

Just as those times, nothing lives until God acts. Ezekiel’s prophecy may bring the bodies of the dead back to wholeness, but only God’s spirit can bring them life.

God wants Ezekiel – and through him, the people of Israel – to understand that full completion of God’s work takes, of all things, God. No new message here, of course.

We might face the unknown, like the chaos that God moved through to bring the universe into existence. Maybe we face the end of all hope and possibility – a metaphorical death if not a literal one. We might have done everything we know how to do and we might have done it very well.

In any event, things will stay as they are until the Spirit of the Lord works.

We can and we should do our best at doing what we believe God wants us to do. God uses those efforts to prepare the way for his work to come about. I may never understand why, but God decided to work with us, and give us a role in helping his purpose be completed.

Ezekiel prophesied to the bones, after all, and it was while he preached that their bodies re-formed. Although God could have restored life to all those bones in whatever way he wished, he chose to let Ezekiel have the last word on whether or not it would happen, before he began his part of the work.

And then, the Spirit of the Lord, the same Spirit that was present at creation and gave form to the world, the same Spirit that came upon the believers at Pentecost and gave a new form to the body of Christ as the church, that Spirit moved in as Ezekiel petitioned it to do, and life returned to what had been dead, dry bones.

Just as it may today, for us. Which sounds like good news to me.

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