A Valley of Dry Bones The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” “O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.” Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”
At a time when all of us are trying to bring together the tensions of being apart from friends and family but yet still communicating with others best we can. How appropriate is the lectionary reading for today? Ezekiel is speaking to Jews in exile, shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. Cut off from their homeland and their temple, they appear as a community from which life has gone, a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel asks the question “Can these bones live?” and by pointing to God as the giver of life and the giver of new life the answer is of course yes. As well as being a prophet, Ezekiel was also a priest. There is a powerful sense of his desire to remind and indeed encourage the people that God’s presence is as strong now as it was prior to the exile. Ezekiel proclaims again and again that even when all seems hopeless, when a sense of abandonment pervades the spirit, God promises restoration. He proclaims God’s message of hope, that God will never abandon them, he is the life-giver, he is to be trusted for he is the Lord. These are the kind of encouraging and uplifting words that the people in exile needed to hear. These are the kind of encouraging and uplifting words we need to hear today. Ezekiel spoke with wonderful imagery that caught the imagination. There cannot be a much more profound image than a pile of sun-bleached human bones lying in the parched desert as the wind whispers across them. And yet, the whisper of God’s life-giving breath was to blow across them, shuddering them into new life. We live in a world of inconsistencies, every time we put on the radio or TV the goal-posts are shifting at a moment’s notice. There is nothing new in that. History is full of such situations that often bring with them despair and disharmony. God breathes life and hope into the lives of people, there follows a new sense of commitment to action. From the depths of the deepest pain in the human heart, no matter where, no matter what, we are never out of calling distance from God. Whatever ways people are using to be gathered today in worship, we are reminded that God is breathing into our very beings, bringing new life and a fresh start. In my Crossing point in the Courier on Thursday I said that Lent can be a time of looking at our mortality and that realisation we are here on earth but for a season and not for eternity. Those journeying with Jesus did not know Easter Sunday lay at the end of all their trials and tribulations. This meant that for them their journey was completely different than ours today. Today were are led once again in this tension but there is a new ingredient thrown into the mix.
What hope do we have for all our forward planning? God’s Spirit is an ever present. Encouraging trust, bring life and hope.