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Lenten Reflection

February 25, 2008

Ezekiel 37

The Valley of Dry Bones

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath [a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

There was a noise, and behold a rattling sound over the Valley of the Dry Bones. The Lord told Ezekiel to prophesy and as he did, the former armies of Israel began to move. Bone to bone they met each other, part by part they rebuilt each other.

I remember distinctly when I first heard this text read aloud. I was sitting in a pitch-black church during Easter Vigil. Alone in the back row of the church, I was wrapped in isolation that extended out the doors of the sanctuary. I’d been stuck in a place of darkness for quite some time- long enough to have forgotten which way was out.

“Oh, Lord,” I whispered, a moan as much as a prayer. Only you know if these bones can live, if these bones can lift themselves up.

God knows because he is not afraid to go into the Valley of the Dead. He is not afraid to walk among his fallen creation, corpses stacked to his left and to his right. When the Lord resurrects, he doesn’t snap his fingers from on high like a sorcerer, he descends down into the valley and breathes out his own life. The God of Israel is not afraid to get dirty and is not afraid to feel pain.

Through Christ, God also descended into the valley of grief. When his close friend Lazarus dies, Jesus weeps like any of us would weep, feels the emptiness in his heart that we all feel when we visit the tomb of a friend. And then, because he is also God, he says, “Roll away the stone.” This is a Messiah who is unafraid of the stench of a recently occupied tomb. He doesn’t just come to the grave to mourn (and later to die), he comes to pull us from it. Filthy in sin and dirt as we are, Christ will breathe us new life.

If we as gentiles are the indeed the people of the New Israel, the heaven to come to earth, those are our bones in the Valley. Jesus descends and breaths out his spirit, covering us in the flesh of the Lamb and we as a church boldly testify to the Resurrection to come. It is our job to persevere through the darkness, to do something with these moving bones. Imperfect as the bones may be, with the breath of God we can connect the pieces, joint to joint. By clinging to each other we can build the Body of Christ.

That night after Easter service, as I lay in my bed staring through the darkness at the ceiling, I heard a car engine turning in the alley outside. But to my ears it sounded like a rattling of dry bones. My heart was moved within me.

I turned my thoughts to the Lord.

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