Scripture: Ezekiel 37: 1-14
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; 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.”
When I was in seminary, we had to do a project on a prophet, and because of where I was located at the time, in the midst of deep grief over an ectopic pregnancy and the breaking up of an important friendship, I was drawn to this particular passage in Ezekiel. And the perfect representation of the text, for me, was a windchime made of bones.
And so, I ordered ribs from a food truck and too sick to eat, I delivered them to a friend, who as directed, ate and returned the bones to me. I went to the Dekalb Farmer’s Market and ordered a cow femur, that they chopped in half. From the local craft store I bought sinew thread, and as the bones boiled on my stove I cut the sinew which I eventually tied into the drilled bones to create the chime.
There aren’t a lot of places to hang a windchime made of bones.
Yet, it has followed me in every move, to four different houses. I’ve never been able to throw it out. For me it’s a reminder of the Ruah, of the spirit and breath of God that moves through us, that gathers us back together, that calls us by name, that restores us. It is hope.
Ezekiel was both a prophet and priest. A contemporary of Jeremiah, but who, after the fall of Israel to Bablyon was marched into the diaspaora. Who witnessed the brutalization of his community, who saw his temple destroyed, who lost land, career, language, lifestyle, and quite possibly his faith.
And I imagine the question he asked and was being asked as both priest and prophet, was where is God.
I love the image of the hand of God literally picking Ezekiel up and taking him to the valley. God brings him to this place. A place where bones maybe even a shallow grave of his community lies. God takes him here, God takes him to the edge and God asks him perhaps the question those of stuck in despair and suffering need to be asked. The question that cuts to the chase of it all,
Can these bones come to life?
The obvious answer is no.
No. Dead bones can’t come back to life.
And there seems to be an emphasis on the dryness of these bones. They are dead dead.
But just short of answering no, which is ultimate devastation, right, to admit to our God that we don’t think there is a way for these bones to walk again, that nothing can be made out of this brokenness, Ezekiel instead answers, Only you know God.
Only you know God.
It’s not quite hopeful, but it’s also not hopeless.
God says, Ezekiel, prophesy to these bones.
M. Craig Barnes writes in his article “Resurrected Hopes”:
How foolish this must have looked. The Lords prophet, standing in the middle of a pile of dead bones, is telling them not to give up hope. If I was Ezekiel, I would have gently suggested that the Lord first bring these bones back to life, and then I’ll do a little preaching. "See," I’d say, "See what God can do?" But that is not the way of God, who calls us to believe without seeing. That is because the Lord’s words always make room for hope. And it is the hope that brings us back to life. Hope rises up from our bones, and chooses to believe in spite of how it is.
I’ve hung my bone chime up in multiple locations, and do you know not once, did the chime begin to immediately sing. How often do we wait? Wait for the wind? Wait for the ruah? Wait for the Spirit? But we wait because we know it will come again. And it is here. And it will come again. And it is here.
The bones stacked themselves up on top of one another. Sinew and muscle came together, flesh formed and held it all in and then, the breath of God breathed. And like I imagine back in Genesis with the creation story, the breath of life brought those bones back to life.
Ezekiel prophesied. And God promised.
A place is made for you. I have not forsaken you. I am your God, You are my people.
Look. We are back in our space today and I am so aware of who is not with us. Giles died right before we closed. His spot is empty. Del isn’t sitting beside Ruth wearing that beautiful buttery leather jacket. Mary Thomas wrapped in her blanket. Her spot is empty. And before I realized how we were doing communion, I wondered who was going to hold the basket for our used cups since Phyliss isn’t here to do it. We’ve had such immense loss just within the confines of this space.
It’s not so hard to imagine how Ezekial might have been feeling. How the people of Israel were feeling. Desperate. Alone. Scared. Despondant. Angry.
We have been shook up. a pandemic, job loss, school shootings, natural disaster, etc., etc.
And I don’t know what God has in store for us. I do not. But like Ruth who expressed it in a moment during Bible study, I am confident there is a plan. And that, for me, is hope.
Today we lit the Advent candle for peace. Did you know that in Greek, peace means “to be joined together”? And the Hebrew word for peace is wholeness? I love that. I love that these ancient understandings of peace were rooted in the unity of the God’s body. Of the community.
God could have done all the work of putting those bones back together, but God didn’t. He used Ezekiel.
As Joanna Harader writes,
There is a need for human voices to speak the words of God to people in despair: “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”
There is a need for us to speak hope into places of desolation, to speak life into places of death.
A need for us to remember—and to remind each other—that God’s holy wind is all around.
And it will come again. And it is here. And it will come again. And it is here.
In the name of the creator, redeemer, sustainer,