Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We plan to continue to post these weekly until we are able to meet again in person for worship. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
We start by listening to a scripture lesson from the book of Ezekiel 37:1-14. This teaching was intended for people who were dislocated, distraught, and dispossessed. They could see no future. And felt that all had been lost. Maybe some of us have had those kind of feelings in recent days and weeks.
The hand of Yahweh was upon me, and it carried me away by the Spirit of Yahweh and set me down in a valley – a valley full of bones. God made me walk up and down among them. And I saw that there was a vast number of bones lying there in the valley, and they were very dry. God asked me, ”Mere mortal, can these bones live?”
I answered, “Only you know that, Sovereign Yahweh.”
And God said, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: ‘Dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh! Sovereign Yahweh says to these bones: I am going to breathe life into you. I will fasten sinews on you, clothe you with flesh, cover you with skin, and give you breath. And you will live; and you will know that I am Sovereign Yahweh.’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded, and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and all the bones came together, bone to matching bone. As I watched, sinews appeared on them, flesh clothed them, and skin covered them. But there was no breath in them.
Then God said to me, “Prophesy to the wind; prophesy, mere mortal, and say to it: ‘Thus says Sovereign Yahweh: Approach from the four winds, Breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’”
I prophesied as I was commanded, and breath came into them; they came alive, and stood up on their feet – a vast multitude.
Then God said to me, “Mere mortal, these bones are the whole House of Israel. The people keep saying, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is gone, and we are doomed.’ Prophesy, therefore, and say to them, ‘Thus says Sovereign Yahweh: I am going to open your graves and raise you up from the dead, my people. I will return you to the land of Israel. When I open your graves and raise you up, you, my people, will know that I am Yahweh. Then I will put my Spirit into you and you will return to life, and I will settle you back on your own land. Then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken and made all this happen, says Sovereign Yahweh.’”
This is a powerful scene. it almost seems like something from a Halloween movie or a movie about aliens. We can imagine a dark dreary, rainy night in a shadowy, graveyard, the wind whipping and the bare trees creaking. And the graves being opened, and the bones of the dead coming back together and fearful new beings emerging.
But before we are scared off by the eerie images, we must be willing to see this scene for what it is. It is the fulfillment of the longings and dreams of the people. It is a scene of hope and wonder. It is the commitment of God to the future of the people of God. They will not languish as a defeated people for all time. They will be transformed. They will live and flourish.
It’s a simple message, really. Conveyed through a compelling image with much to offer. As we think about this story, we want to notice that the bones in the valley were dry. Very dry. Completely dead. Used up. Spent. No potential for constructive use.
And these are not the bones of one person. Or even a family plot. These are the bones of a community. A people. A culture. A collective. That’s important to remember especially when the Christian tradition has done so much to emphasize individual resurrection. This passage tells us about a society. Which is dead. Spent. Finished.
In the story, the prophet is asked by God, “Can these bones live?” What does the prophet think? Is there reason for hope? Well, having tried to do things their way and ending up as dried bones, the prophet knows the limits of human ideas and agency. And so the writer doesn’t dodge the question but links the future not to human desires but to the will of God. To the power of God. To something beyond the tribal self interest of the people. Only YOU know, the prophet replies. This is not abdication. It is affirmation. Of a bigger reality. Of the power of love which can be much more influential and determinative than assessments of assets and _____ strategies. Only you know if these dead and dried bones can live.
Then we get the answer. There is noise, rattling, bones come together, sinew forms, flesh appears, skin encases, and then, there is breath. Breath. Wind from the four directions. Spirit infuses the new creation. This new community. This new society.
These people are God’s people.
And these words speak to our time just as they spoke to Ezekiel’s time.
Recent days, weeks, years, lifetimes, have shown us the death-dealing ways of injustice. And if we were missing the message, COVID-19 has made it unmistakable. All the systemic inequity and bias have literally led to death. Thousands of deaths. Before our media saturated eyes. The valley is full of bones and they are very dry.
Are you responsible for this? Am I? We are trying to be good people. We don’t want to live in a racist society. We don’t want to endorse or support oppression.
I heard an interview on NPR this week talking about Freddie Gray who was killed by police in Baltimore in 2015. He was born prematurely, to a mother who was an addict. He was born addicted to crack. He suffered from lead poisoning as in infant. This is all before he made any choices about his own life. That can happen only when there is a system in place to create that outcome.
We don’t want to live in a country, a society, a community where that happens. We know that is wrong.
But we are in a context that is constructed for those outcomes. We live in a country with a history that has created this reality. Where human beings are seen as input, as commodities, and are valued according to color. We are a country that values money above morals. As scholar and public activist Cornel West reminds us in his classic book, Race Matters, if racism did not have a financial advantage for some, it would not exist. In this land, racism and the economic system are inextricably intertwined. And to glimpse the possibility of a new future, we need to see this link.
In the lesson from Ezekiel, God takes the prophet to see the valley of the dry bones. The prophet is shown the utter demise of his community and culture as they had previously existed. It is a complete and thorough end. The bones in the valley are very dry.
To rise as a society, we have to die to what has gone before. The economic arrangements, the power arrangements, the patriarchy, white privilege. Yes, it is our heritage. Yes it has much to teach us. Yes, we need to know where we come from and how we got here. But to eradicate racism, to heal oppression and bigotry and bias, the whole entire system must be not just “reformed” but really, regenerated.
There really has to be a death of the entire reality that creates a circumstance in which one person feels he has the authority to kneel on the neck of another, making him dead, with other people, with similar authority watching, and the random public present as witnesses. This systemic reality must become a heap of dry bones. Dead. Gone.
So that something new can emerge. So the process of re-creation can take place. So that the breath, that brooded over the waters of creation, and enspirited all of life and infused humanity, can blow again, and from the dry bones, a new creation can emerge. A new reality.
Ezekiel tells us of the bones coming together, and the sinews, and the flesh, and then the skin. And finally the breath. The emergence of new life is a process. It takes times. It is not neat and tidy. It is a messy business. Complicated. Unpredictable.
So, in Ezekiel there is that question, CAN the bones live? Can we live? Is there hope? For our society? For our species? With God, yes. With trust in the love and sacredness and divinity at the core of each and every human life, yes. With trust in the holiness of creation, yes. This is the message of this story, and of the life of Jesus, and of the Bible. Yes! Yes, these bones can live. We can emerge into the new reality that Divine Love is seeking to manifest in our midst. Amen.
As you listen to the music from Hilton which follows, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you.
(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)