Fifth Sunday of Lent - Can These Bones Live?
Today is the Fifth Sunday of the season of Lent---a season when we can prepare ourselves for our journey with Jesus.... Forty days of letting go of what keeps us from following Jesus and taking up whatever brings us closer to Him.
The passage of Scripture that we're going to be exploring today is one of the most dramatic scenes from the Hebrew Scripture: The vision of the valley of dry bones in the prophet Ezekiel.
Since this whole passage is about bones I got to thinking about all of the things that we learn from bones... What do bones tell us?
If you watch shows like Forensic Files or any other true crime television program, most likely you will catch an episode where the crime was solved and a murderer was brought to justice all because of what forensic analysis told us about a bone fragment.
Bones can tell a story. Have you ever seen the recreation of some long dead person's features based solely on what can be learned from their skull? Pretty incredible, right?
Bones are also signs and symbols of mortality. One of the most famous scenes from Shakespeare's Hamlet comes when Hamlet waxes eloquent about death and dying while standing in a graveyard.
Bones... when all that's left is bones we know for sure that all is lost... hope is gone... there is nothing coming back from that...
And yet despite all of this. Despite all evidence to the contrary. Despite the fact that we are constantly confronted with mortality, with death---the death of loved ones, our own death, the death of our dreams, even the death of our faith...
Those of us who are Christians still cling desperately to Resurrection---to the belief that God can raise what was dead to new life.
Today I want us to affirm this one, very true, very uplifting and hope-filled statement: God is still in the resurrection business...
Let's turn to our passage of Scripture for this morning---Ezekiel 37:1-14. But before we did into it, let me give you some background on the prophet and this particular prophecy.
Ezekiel speaks from Babylon, exiled from a country that has died, its temple and capital city destroyed.
Ezekiel himself was taken into exile in 597 BCE, and he heard reports of his religious institution being corrupted without the proper oversight of the priesthood, and that his status had been reduced from a prominent position as a future priest in Jerusalem to that of a temple-less priest in exile.
After the death of his wife and God's command for him not to mourn her as an example for the exilic community not to mourn the loss of the Temple. This is a guy who knows what it feels like to feel dried up and lost.
Let's pick up the story as Ezekiel is given a vision by God:
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; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were 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 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.”
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. 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.
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.”
There's a question in the midst of this passage that is the driving question for the prophecy: Will these bones live? God asks this question--isn't it odd?
God is the one asking, but it's really our question isn't it? It's like God knew what Ezekiel was going to ask, because it's the kind of thing that all human beings ask when they are confronted with death and destruction... "Can this live again?"
The people use a common idiom of their time to express their helplessness and hopelessness. They say, "Our bones are dried up."
And then God breathes life into the impossible, the Spirit, the ruach fills all of the bodies with new life.
But with God's spirit, there is life--and what Jesus called fullness of life. And there is no place on earth, no when in time, and no what in sin or situation, that can keep God's Spirit away from God's people
(see Romans 8:31-38).
No matter how bleak the situation... nothing can keep God's resurrecting Spirit from God's people. Nothing.
Let's go back for a moment to that central question... Can these bones live?
Where are you asking that question in your own life right now?
What have you left for dead? Relationships? Faith? Your potential? Hope?
I want you to hear this... God is in the resurrection business. Say it with me...
What Seems Lost and Barren around you? Society? Civility? Religion? The Environment? There's so much.
But what is that we affirm? Say it with me...
In just a few weeks we will be celebrating Easter, rejoicing over the Resurrection of Jesus, and the beginning of a new way of knowing, being and believing.
The greatest words in all of the Bible come to us from that Resurrection Sunday.
Tell the story... He is not here... he is risen, just as he said.
And we hold on to this, and we affirm this, and we cling to it with desperate and defiant hope. Because this is what we know... say it with me:
God is still in the Resurrection business.