Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Skeletons and bones are seldom funny things, unless you are a 5th grader. Consider their attempts at humor. How did the skeleton know it was going to rain on Halloween? Because, he could feel it in his bones! Why did the skeleton do so well on the final exam? Because he decided to bone up on the facts. Or what do skeletons say before they begin eating? Bone-Appetit! And finally, what is a skeleton’s favorite musical instrument? A trom-bone, although a saxa-bone is a close second. The people of Israel certainly didn’t think that bones were a funny matter. Instead, they complained to God, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”
Of course, you and I have the advantage of history. We know what God can do. Besides, we were all raised on the old spiritual, “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, gonna rise up again, and walk all around.” We can sing and smile- even if we don’t feel that skeletons are particularly funny things. That was not, however, the perspective of the prophet Ezekiel or the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon. For the prophet it was not a matter of whether the bones could be brought to life, it was a matter of whether the people of Israel would ever live again and enjoy life in their promised land.
My friends, this morning, let us meditate on the life of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, and the question each one of us asks when we are standing at the valley of dry bones. Can the life we once knew and lost ever be restored?
According to scripture, Ezekiel was born in the 13th year of the King Josiah in the last year of the kingdom of Judah. He knew and remembered the good year, but he also knew God’s warning of impending judgment. As a young man, he was designated a sentinel and commanded to warn people of the coming destruction. After the siege of Jerusalem, he was captured by the Babylonians and taken away with the first of Jews into captivity. He lived through the destruction of Jerusalem ten years later, and continued his work as a prophet for twenty plus years. The loss of Jerusalem was a defining moment for the Jewish people. It weighed so heavily upon the prophets, that the entire Book of Lamentations was dedicated to the fall city and the mourning of its loss. In the psalms we hear the people asking, How can we sing the Lord’s song along the rivers of Babylon in a foreign land. Even for God’s prophet Ezekiel, the dream of returning to the fallen remnants of Jerusalem was too unbearable and impossible to imagine. .
And so we read, that one day, “The hand of the Lord came upon Ezekiel, bringing him out by the spirit of Lord and setting me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.” The vision begins as a nightmare. Is the valley a place of a terrible battle, now forgotten, where many soldiers died, their bodies dried up in the blast furnace of the desert? Is it some kind of monstrous cemetery where the bodies of the dead have not been well buried, but exposed to the elements and the wild beast and birds that feed on lost carcasses, picking the flesh clean, leaving only the dry bones?
Then the spirit asks an astonishing question: “Mortal, can these bones live?” Of course, Ezekiel knows what his answer would be: “Are you kidding? Dry bones are just that, dry and dead. It’s impossible.” That’s what the prophet was thinking, but he tried to be cautious and guarded before God, and answered instead, “Lord God, you know.” And yet, the impossible was precisely what was about to happen in the vision that would follow. In essence, God was saying, “So Ezekiel, you think it’s impossible for me to restore my people from exile? You think it’s impossible for me to restore my people to the land and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. I’m going to show you that I can do something infinitely more impossible than that. Not only am I going to restore the bones and sinew and flesh, but I am going to return my breath to these bodies, and they are going to live again. Then the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of Lord!”
So Ezekiel gives it his best shot, and sure enough, the silent valley was awash in the noise of rattling as the bones began joining together. Soon they were covered in fresh sinew, adorned with layers of flesh, covered finally with pink skin. But the new creatures were not yet alive, since there was as yet no breath in them. Ezekiel was commanded a second time to preach to the bones.
For me, that is what is truly amazing about Ezekiel’s vision, and yet so reminiscent of our own, broken, dried lives. 2500 years later, God is still restoring broken relationships. He is still doing the impossible in the valley of dry bones. But we are all a bit like Ezekiel either waiting for the next command, the next step, or perhaps suggesting excuses of why the impossible won’t happen.
Our rational and reasons, can be as silly as the 5th grade humor. “I will not believe. I will not go to church because my mother made me go to church.” I imagine your mother made you take a bath as well, so now you don’t take a bath either. Or another says, “Well, there are hypocrites in the church. Some lawyers are hucksters; some doctors are quacks; and some money is counterfeit. But, if you need a lawyer or a doctor, you find one. And you’ve probably not yet burned all of your cash because some money is fake. Or yet another says, “I’d like to be more faithful, but there’s just so much to give up.” It’s like saying, “I’d like to be healed, but I don’t want to give up my cancer.” The only things God really asks you to give up are the things that will hurt you.
So like Ezekiel, you are waiting for that next step. And what is that command? It is for the breath of God to enter into your broken life, so that you can begin anew. God said as much to Ezekiel, “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.” God keeps his promises, even though from the very start they appear impossible.
My friends, when you are standing beside your own valley of dry bones, when love in your marriage is strained, when your kids seem all messed up, when you are feeling low, there isn’t really anything that you can do than to allow God’s breath to enter in. It is God’s miraculous presence who brings new life to the deadness in you and me. With God’s spirit, anything is possible. Without it, existence is just flesh and blood. A new restored life requires the breath of God moving in and among the bones; moving us to better ways of living and being. But like Ezekiel, we must open ourselves to God’s possibilities and his spirit. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.