Ezekiel 37 (NRSV)
We are all deeply impacted by this awful Covid-19 virus. If not directly, well, by all sorts of indirect effects. We continue to pray for the sick, their superstar care-givers, those in both formal and informal leadership guiding us through this pandemic as well as all of their, and our, precious families. We understand the need for social distancing and isolation and are all doing our best to adhere to the guidelines as laid out. But we do recognize how very difficult it is to be cut off from community. Please remember that we, your church family, are just an email or phone call away from one another and are very willing to connect. We are also offering these opportunities for online worship uploaded each Sunday at 10.00am on our website and Facebook.
God’s got this, and God is with us, we are not alone.
In today’s reading we host Ezekiel’s vision of God’s Spirit moving through a valley of dry bones, bringing life from what seemed to be so very dead. It’s a vision filled with hope and promise…
1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
Ever felt like that? Are you tempted NOW to feel like that? As we look at our circumstances, how do we feel physically…? mentally/emotionally…? spiritually…? We may find ourselves at that almost desperate point of exasperation: …can these bones live? ”I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” ‘God-only-knows’
This virus which is destroying so much of what we know – leaving so much forever changed in its wake. Can there be life after so much seems to be ending? Our energy levels? Our spirituality? Our sense of meaning & purpose? Isolation is hard! Solitary confinement is among the worst of human experience! Eroding, soul-destroying…
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath[a] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath[b] in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
Ezekiel is pointing to the absurdity that we are given to believe as those who follow THE ONE whose specialty is RESURRECTION – even Jesus Christ!
It was somewhere in the mid-6th Cent BCE – and Ezekiel was speaking to the people of Judah in Babylonian exile. A Biblical Archaeological Society[i] blog describes how life in Babylon was actually pretty good. They lived well – they were comfortable, perhaps TOO comfortable. Fairly recent archaeological evidence suggests that many were even pretty wealthy. The challenges Ezekiel addresses here had much less to do with their physical suffering as with their being drawn away from their God-given identity and purpose! They’d forgotten who they were, why they existed.
In their 70 year/three generations of exile they’d allowed themselves to lose their whole ACTUAL reason for existence – which was to be not just all for themselves but to be a ‘light to the nations’[ii]
“I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light to the nations”
Their whole identity & purpose was to bless creation in ways that reflect the character and purposes of a God of life, and love, and hope, justice, healing, compassion as opposed to the self-serving hedonism that was coming increasingly to mark their life in Babylon.
Their whole awareness of themselves as a covenanted community – created for a particular purpose – had withered – just dried up! Like so many old bones in a valley. That’s what Ezekiel was seeing and that’s to what he was commanded to speak!
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; …and then, in Ezekiel’s vision, it happened! …as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:[c] Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,[d] and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
…sounds kind of like what happened in the creation narrative where, in Gen[iii], we are told how after bringing Adam (humanity) together from the dirt God breathed – RUACH/ PNEUMA/ BREATH – and Adam lived! The spiritually destructive influence of 3 generations of serious Babylonian-distraction was NOT going to be the end of their story! Can these bones live? ” With so much that looks like death? With so much of our spirituality desiccated by so much life-distraction…? After so many life-mistakes…? They can!
But that assurance is NOT intended passively to resign us into accepting just whatever our circumstances may be. It’s meant instead to mobilize us ACTIVELY to want to address our circumstances – but to do so with all the confidence of knowing resurrection hope! We see it happening now, in the lives of so many people who are discovering all sorts of new priorities during this time of pandemic! In the creativity of the family singing happy to their great grandmother from her outside patio deck, as well as in the millions acts of selfless kindness as people are moved to care for one another…
11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
Clearly, THOSE DRY BONES of Ezekiel’s vision ARE US!
Last week we spoke about how in Psalm 23 there are those times when we are forced to lie down in order to have our souls restored. This passage from Ezekiel 37 builds on that! KIND OF LIKE A PART 2! Because having ‘our souls restored’ means that we – our truest selves – are being woken up!
It means that what we’ve allowed to shrink & shrivel within us is now being called out – just like an apparently dead Lazarus buried way before it actually was his time to die: WE TOO ARE BEING CALLED OUT! This passage calls on us to notice and then embrace our potential – the best of us as individuals! As a community! As a nation! As a humanity!
…as we begin to wake up, as we begin to loosen up, start coming together,
allowing tendons to stretch with flesh and skin
…& ultimately to inhale sacred breath…
What is God currently waking up in YOU – calling on in ME to be and to do at this time?
…calling out in all of US?
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[i] https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-near-eastern-world/how-bad-was-the-babylonian-exile. Their suffering that was not necessarily physically. In her article “How Bad Was the Babylonian Exile?”[i] University of California, Berkeley, Lecturer Laurie Pearce explores evidence suggesting that their lives were pretty comfortable – perhaps too comfortable.
[ii] See Abrahamic covenant of Gen.12 as well as Isaiah prophecies Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3 and John 8:12
[iii] Genesis 2:7