Speaking to Dry Bones
There’s some resurrection preview action going on this weekend with two weeks to go until Easter. Whether you’re a preacher, teacher, or simply a student of Scripture who uses the Lectionary for study, this week’s selections should light a fire in you. If you don’t find that to be the case, then get a fresh translation—read, re-read, meditate, and pray—over and over again if necessary, especially if you’re presenting these passages to others. If you aren’t getting excited about what you’re reading, chances are, the people who will be listening to you won't get very excited either. And it’s hard to not let these selections get to you—I’ve been thinking about Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones for days now (Ezekiel 37:1-14).
When pastors get frustrated with a perceived lack of vibrancy in their congregations, I sometimes hear the dry bones passage trotted out and applied to the congregation. (Not usually in a sermon, mind you, but “off the record”. Congregations and small groups would probably see the passage a little differently.) As I was reading Ezekiel’s vision this week, I reminded myself that nothing is impossible with God. Even when everyone else, including our own common sense, says to give up hope, Ezekiel reminds us that nothing is so far gone that we need to give up on God.
I love the beginning of the vision when God shows Ezekiel the dry bones and asks, “Can these bones live?” The prophet avoids the Sunday school answer (“Sure, God! You can do anything!”) and the pessimistic (some would say realistic) answer (“Are you kidding me?”) In fact, he avoids answering altogether by saying, “Lord GOD, you know.”
That’s pretty much another way of saying, “I don’t know. You tell me.” Deep down, I bet Ezekiel suspected the answer was no, but he had enough sense of who God is to not say such a thing out loud.
Then God told Ezekiel to speak to the bones. And as he spoke, the bones came together, with ligaments and muscles—even skin. But still no real life. Not yet, anyway. Ezekiel was instructed to speak to the breath, or the Spirit, who would breathe on the people who had been killed so that they might live. So he did, and suddenly, there were enough living people standing to form a large army.
God explains to Ezekiel that all the people of Israel are like the bones. “The people say, 'Our bones are dry, and our hope has vanished. We are completely destroyed.'” (Ezekiel 37:11b)
But even in what seems like total destruction, there is hope. And this is what we can’t let people miss when we share this passage.
I was talking to a friend this week who has been looking for a job since Christmas. But most recently he’s been doing it in a half-hearted way, he told me, because he’s lost hope. So I encouraged him, and I spoke to his situation. (Sometimes we have to speak to situations, the same way Ezekiel spoke to the bones.) Then after I had finished the conversation with my friend, I had another conversation with God. In a sense, I spoke to the bones (a seemingly hopeless situation), then I entreated the Spirit to breathe life into that situation.
As Christians, God has given us the awesome privilege of prophesying into each other’s lives, whether or not we’re pastors or teachers.
Ezekiel 37 is too exciting to be preached only on a historical level. It needs to be applied to life! And the Lazarus passage can be brought in too, as it nicely rounds out the “never give up hope” message.