For the time being, my church is not gathering in our sanctuary for worship. We are meeting online and you can join us on Facebook Live or at YouTube Live. So I won’t be posting my regular sermons, but I will be offering a weekly written reflection. I will also share a recorded devotional each Wednesday and Sunday.
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. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
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. 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. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
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.’ 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. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 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.
We don’t hear from Ezekiel very much in the Sunday Lectionary; his writings appear only six times in the three-year cycle of readings and a couple of those are from Propers of Ordinary Time that might get left out depending on when Easter falls. This reading though, the valley of dry bones, is probably the most well-known and may also be familiar to you from the Easter Vigil. This vision of Ezekiel surrounded by the scattered bones of thousands upon thousands, scattered across the valley floor, is s stark one. It is a vision of the stillness and emptiness of death.
I suppose it is appropriate that an unprecedented pandemic should descend upon us at Lent, though that is entirely coincidental. And of course, the repercussions will last long past this season of the church’s year; into Easter and probably far beyond.
Ezekiel was thinking of the calamity of Jerusalem’s destruction and the sense of loss and emptiness that those in exile felt; their fear that though they still drew breath, their lives were shattered and irredeemably lost. The vision was also meant to convey the emptiness and pointlessness of so much that occupied the Israelite leadership before the conquest. That in following their fears and worries they lost sight of the God who was in their midst.
We worry. Frankly, this is a worrying time and there is much to unsettle our minds and troubles our psyches. Many of us may be feeling, something like those ancient Israelites as we experience the disruptions in our lives. And perhaps we too are re-evaluating what our lives were before in light of where we find ourselves now. And yet one of the themes of the scripture narrative is the futility of worry as an effective strategy; Jesus reminds of this, and yet it is the most human of things to do.
Our worrying is rooted in our inability to live into God’s abundance and to abide instead in our sense of scarcity. How might we define a “good life.” Fame? Wealth? Influence? Power? Years? What ultimately, we might ask, is the measure of a human life?
I’ve been thinking a lot recently of Anne Frank. I’ve been cooped up in my home for a little over a week, and I have found it trying. The Frank family along with the VanPels, and another man, Fritz Pfeffer, lived in hiding for over two years.
I’ve been contemplating Anne Frank’s dilemma, and not just because I’ve been cooped up. My sequestering is in no way comparable to theirs. But because in that awkward hiding place, with too many people too close together, and as she went through a shortened adolescence; in her diary Anne continues to find a home for her hope.
Anne lived in that valley of dry bones, and somehow managed to not be overwhelmed by the despair and horror of it all. There’s little to suggest that Anne was religious in her writings and yet I can’t help but believe some vision or sense of the presence of the divine was known to her.
I can’t imagine the effort it took to see beyond her surroundings and see instead the possibility of life. And I wonder, do I see the divine so clearly in my own life?
As we know, Anne’s hope, the hope that sustained her through her ordeal, was not ultimately rewarded in this life. Anne died, probably of typhus, in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp in early 1945. People who knew her in the camps have testified that she displayed strength and courage in the same way that her spirit is discovered in her own words.
We are vulnerable beings. This latest public health crisis has been a stark reminder of that. I also see so many people willing to do what they can for neighbors and friends. To take on uncertainty and discomfort so that the most vulnerable among us might have a better chance. I see also the willingness of those usually unseen, delivery workers, sanitation workers, nurses and hospital staff, and the host of servers of all kinds, all still risking themselves that some semblance of life might continue. I have glimpsed in them the hope that can transform all things, that redeems all things.
I have seen the presence of the divine, the grace of God, in action amid the dry bones. Thanks be to God.