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Alone, Together in the Valley.

Lent 5, Common Lectionary Year A

Ezekiel 37:1-14

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Introduction to Scripture.

Six years ago, our Cedar Park choir had a glorious time singing Mark Hayes’ arrangement of that classic gospel anthem “Dem Bones” with its toe-tapping mini-anatomy lesson. The anthem retells Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones with humour, and with a strong gospel sense of God’s power to restore “dem bones” to full, sentient life.

If truth be known, however the text is not fun, nor funny. It’s apocalyptic, shockingly graphic, and while it draws the reader forward into a vision of future restoration, it is next to impossible not to have the valley of desolation linger long in the imagination. Especially these days.

Some context is helpful; About 100 years before the time of Ezekiel, Israel’s northern kingdom had been invaded and annihilated by the empire of Assyria. Israel was gone. And now, war, conquest and exile, at the hands of the massive Empire of Babylon, has come to Judah, the southern kingdom, huddled in the uplands around Jerusalem. Did Ezekiel see the battleground? God’s people, slain, gone. Is that what fueled this vision? If so, it’s stunning. How could he possibly believe that the end of the world as he knew it, the total devastation of everything he had known, could possibly be redeemed? His horror, his questions, they are so poignantly ours today. Let’s pray that his vision and hope are ours too.

Scripture

Ezekiel 37:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)/Robert Alter
37 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; and behold, it was full of bones. 2 God led me around and around the valley, all around the bones; there were very many lying in the valley, and look!, they were very, very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the HOLY ONE. 5 Thus says GOD the Holy One 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 God the HOLY ONE.”

7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and 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.

9Then God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the wind/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, behold, a vast multitude!

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 God, the HOLY ONE, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit[e] within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own earth/soil; then you shall know that I, the HOLY ONE, have spoken and will act, says the God, the LORD.”

Footnotes:
a. Ezekiel 37:5 Or spirit
b. Ezekiel 37:6 Or spirit
c. Ezekiel 37:9 Or wind or spirit
d. Ezekiel 37:9 Or wind or spirit
e. Wind/spirit/breath

See after Sermon for other ways to explore this text.

Sermon: Alone, Together in the Valley

Sermon audio
Sermon video

Let us pray.
Holy One, breathe that Spirit-breath
into the words that I speak
so that from these ancient, mystical words,
and from the dry bones of Ezekiel’s dream,
you will speak again the word of life
to us. Amen.

In the year of disaster for the people of Judah,
the hand of God [1] rested upon the shoulder of Ezekiel,
and God’s brooding Spirit carried him up
and set him down, and led him all around [2]
a valley of silent lamentation,
filled with the bones of the dead.
Ezekiel’s people.
All life, all hope, bleached and gone.
Calcified memories only
of what once was,
of what might have been.

In the fifth week of Lent, 2020,
the hand of God rests upon my shoulder, your shoulder,
each of us alone, together.
The same brooding Spirit of God carries us,
and sets us down, and leads us
around and around, and around
all this silent, lamentable, desolate valley of bones.

We don’t want to be here.
We would do anything to not linger,
to fast-forward to beyond the current calamity,
to hunker down just out of sight of this valley of doom,
past, present and yet to come.

But the hand of God is upon us today;
God’s Spirit is insistent,
because it is imperative that we really,
really notice, and name,
and lament with our whole being,
what is dead, what is gone.

And so, lifting the ancient text into our lives,
we step carefully, over and around,
noticing, naming,
the bones of global pandemic,
the brittle bones of complacency,
of a false sense of invincibility,
the rattling bones of crippling existential fear,
the shattered bones of confidence in economies
and politics,
the scattered bones of civil discourse..
And close enough to touch,
bones called grief,
unfinished love cut off by quarantine.
Over there, on the horizon,
the bent, misshapen bones of climate crisis,
the out of socket bones of displacement,
forced migration…
…so many bones!
It is excruciatingly awful, this walk
alone, together through this valley…

Into the silence,
a wind, subtle, spirit-filled,
clatters the bones with a question,
“Mortal, human child,
can these bones live?”

Surely, never a wiser word was spoken
by a mortal to God in all of human history
than the words of this prophet, Ezekiel…
drawn slowly from the gut, the heart, the brain,
a slow guttural,
“O Holy One, only you know.”

For if truth be told,
we are as agnostic about the possibilities
for life in the midst of all this deadness
as was Ezekiel.
God only knows if truth and integrity
will ever be restored to political discourse.
God only knows if the planet will withstand our
grasping pillaging of its resources.
God only knows if there will ever be an end
to the waste of warfare.
God only knows if there will be a just and lasting
reconciliation between indigenous and settler peoples.
God only knows how, or if we, alone or together,
will emerge whole, from this relentless CoVid Lenten Valley.

And isn’t that the point of Ezekiel’s vision?
That there is something beyond us,
beyond our prognostications and our plans,
beyond our fears, that God does know?

But…. in the text, and in our lives,
does God actually answer the question?
Well no…., and yes…
What God says next is no omniscient declaration
of restoration, of creation’s survival
at God’s whim or intention.
It’s a commission, an imperative.
God: Can these bones live?
Ezekiel: You’re the one who knows!
God: Prophesy to these bones!

What does prophesy mean?
Prognosticate, peer at tea-leaves into the future?
No. That’s a tabloid definition.
“Prophesy” in the Bible means,
proclaim, declare, become a mouthpiece,
for what you see God is up to in the world.
Speak God’s truth over the bones.

So, when God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy”
he is calling upon a mere mortal,
commissioning a human child of earth
to do what once was God’s alone to do,
namely to breathe, to proclaim words that give life
into the places of death!

In Genesis 1, by the spoken word of God,
the Ruach – the Spirit, the Breath ,
the mighty Pentecostal Wind of God
hovered over the chaotic first seconds of creation,
bringing forth from them light, dark, sound, time, space,
harmony, energy, matter, order, beauty, possibility.

Here, hovering over this valley of the shadow of death
God calls each one of us, mortal children of God,
alone and together,
to declare God’s same creative word once again.

We are no mere spectators in this Valley of Bones.
We are commissioned as agents of God’s re-creative power.
As people of God,
?while we walk all around this death-dark valley,
God’s hand on our shoulder,
God’s breath whispering “Prophesy!” in our ears?
we are to be about the business of proclaiming
in word and compassionate action
God’s Dream.
The God-Dream that started all this, life;
that sustains, restores, heals;
that morning by morning
restores light to darkness;
that re-births Spring life to frozen winter,
that will call humanity forth reborn in the end,
resurrected from the tombs
of this pandemic isolation and quarantine,
sickness, death, and deathly fear.

God’s work of resurrection is done, in every generation,
when we mortals accept this commission
from God to prophesy,
to breathe, whisper, sing, shout,
email, Facebook message, phone,
to send videos across the internet,
to leave a meal at the door,
to fill the house windows with rainbows and butterflies,
to sing from balconies, to batter pots and pans,
to ring the church bells, to light the candles,
whatever act of compassion and kindness and hope
it takes to prophesy
“Dry bones, Hear the Word of God.
There is and there will be life,
future, hope, love. Again.
Hear the Word of God!”

Footnotes

[1] A phrase so common in OT, that always means an action of rescue or redemption by God.
[2] Hb has “all round and around” signifying a deliberate lingering, with plenty of time to notice everything.

Ways to explore this text through music and art.

Linnea Good  O Dry Bones hear the word of God https://youtu.be/MSY_xcBbgt0  * Please note, this is a recording made specially for us, and for Jubilee United, Burnaby, BC, for this Sunday.

Laruen Daigle  “Come Alive” (Dry Bones) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XAeyFagceQ

Matthew West Mended. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Otg-5p7qug

Sculpture outside the Knesset in Jerusalem: Ezekiel 37 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c4/2019-06-11_Knesset_Bones_Ezekiel_37.jpg

Gustav Dore Engraving https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vision_of_the_Valley_of_Dry_Bones#/media/File:The_Vision_of_The_Valley_of_The_Dry_Bones.jpg

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