Scripture - Ezekiel 37:1-14 (from The Voice)
Ezekiel: 37 The Eternal had a hold on me, and I couldn’t escape it. The divine wind of the Eternal One picked me up and set me down in the middle of the valley, but this time it was full of bones. 2 God led me through the bones. There were piles of bones everywhere in the valley—dry bones left unburied.
Eternal One (to Ezekiel): 3 Son of man, do you think these bones can live?
Ezekiel: Eternal Lord, certainly You know the answer better than I do.
Eternal One: 4-5 Actually, I do. Prophesy to these bones. Tell them to listen to what the Eternal Lord says to them: “Dry bones, I will breathe breath into you, and you will come alive. 6 I will attach muscles and tendons to you, cause flesh to grow over them, and cover you with skin. I will breathe breath into you, and you will come alive. After this happens, you will know that I am the Eternal.”
Ezekiel: 7 So I did what God told me to do: I prophesied to the bones. As I was speaking, I heard a loud noise—a rattling sound—and all the bones began to come together and form complete skeletons. 8 I watched and saw muscles and tendons attach to the bones, flesh grow over them, and skin wrap itself around the reforming bodies. But there was still no breath in them.
Eternal One: 9 Prophesy to the breath. Speak, son of man, and tell them what the Eternal Lord has to say: “O sweet breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these who have been killed. Make these corpses come alive.”
Ezekiel: 10 So I did what God told me to do: I prophesied to the breath. As I was speaking, breath invaded the lifeless. The bodies came alive and stood on their feet. I realized then I was looking at a great army.
Eternal One: 11 Son of man, these bones are the entire community of Israel. They keep saying, “Our bones are dry now, picked clean by scavengers. All hope is gone. Our nation is lost.”
Ezekiel: 12-13 He told me to prophesy and tell them what He said.
Eternal One: Pay attention, My people! I am going to open your graves and bring you back to life! I will carry you straight back to the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Eternal One. 14 I will breathe My Spirit into you, and you will be alive once again. I will place you back in your own land. After that you will know I, the Eternal, have done what I said I would do.
Ezekiel: So said the Eternal One.
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
“My days are a thirsty atonal combination of the mundane and the apocalyptic.”
That’s a quote from poet Audre Lourde, reflecting on her experience of living with cancer, and I came across it at a gathering of other spiritual leaders who were trying to figure out what spiritual practices look like in these strange times we’re living in. One of the presenters shared this quote as a way of describing the tension that many of us feel - on the one hand, life has to go on, our everyday tasks continue...on the other hand, things seem rather apocalyptic -- not in the world coming to an end, fire and brimstone sense, but apocalyptic in it’s true nature, which is about a shift in perspective, a shift in worldview, a moment when the world as you’ve known and experienced it ends….and a new one begins….and you need a new narrative to hold it all. You have to deal with both...the mundane...and the apocalyptic.
“My days are a thirsty atonal combination of the mundane and the apocalyptic.”
So this passage we heard from Ezekiel is the one appointed from the lectionary for this Sunday in Lent - this season of spiritual preparation that leads to Easter. And when I read it earlier this week, I don’t think I had ever before been so struck by the resonances between what’s going on in our world and in our country and in our lives and an arbitrary scripture passage from a 3 year cycle of readings.
And we find ourselves in this dry, barren, thirsty valley full of bones. Dry bones. Bones bleached white by the sun kind of bones. Bones that have absolutely no chance of ever coming back to life. They are deader than dead.
Pretty hopeless….and so God’s question “do you think these bones can live?” seems like a no-brainer. Of course not would be the rational, reasonable answer.
And yet Ezekiel says “you know the answer better than I do” - Ezekiel seems to look upon this valley of dry dusty bones with a different perspective. Where some might see despair...hopelessness...lifeless desolation...Ezekiel looks and realizes that God can do something with this. Whether he speaks this out of genuine confidence in God’s ability to perform miracles or out of uncertainty...Ezekiel’s response reminds us that what is beyond our human perspective or knowing is not beyond that of God’s...that God’s imagination outstrips our own.
And yet, even in this, God relies on human agency. God asks Ezekiel to speak to the bones to accomplish this miraculous wonder in bringing life out of death….and what was once a scene of desolation and grief becomes an image of power and strength - through God’s words and breath in cooperation with Ezekiel’s own.
It’s an apocalyptic moment, where God’s action brings about a whole new perspective, something that was so completely out of the bounds of human imagination.
And God wants us to be ready for it - right in the midst of our everyday, mundane lives.
The last two verses of the passage, God says “Pay attention, My people! I am going to open your graves and bring you back to life!...I will breathe My Spirit into you, and you will be alive once again. I will place you back in your own land.”
I think for me that’s the invitation and the challenge of this time where life isn’t what it used to be two weeks ago. Pay attention to our bodies...to our emotions...to our rhythms and routines...pay attention and notice what is going on inside us...around us….pay attention to our breathing...and pay attention to where God is showing up...to what God is saying...to what God is inviting you into in this apocalyptic moment.
We’re going to do that together for a moment...paying attention to God through centering our breathing together. Breath is such a powerful image in the Bible - the Hebrew word for it is Ruach -- breath...wind...spirit...used both in reference to human breathing...and as a name for God. The Greek word pneuma is used similarly. And so we can imagine...as we get into a comfortable posture...as we close our eyes and focus our awareness on our breathing….that as we slowly breathe in, we’re not just taking in oxygen to nourish our bodies but we’re taking in God’s spirit….and as we breathe out, we’re not just breathing out the molecules our bodies can’t use, we’re breathing out all that doesn’t ground us in this moment...everything that distracts from God’s presence with us here and now….
...we breathe in the breath of God….
...we breathe out tenions…
...we take in what we need….
...and breath out to make room for more….
...as we breathe in and out we are cleansed and renewed...we are reminded of God’s spirit breathing over the waters of creation and the word that infused the universe with light…
...we are reminded of the dusty dry and barren places in our lives and God’s renewing breath suffusing us with life….
...we are reminded of the wind of the Holy Spirit empowering God’s people to speak and embody love…
...we take this time to ground ourselves in God’s presence...and we pay attention to God’s movement in our lives and in our world…
...as you continue to breathe...what do you notice? What is your attention drawn toward? Take a moment to write it in the chat box….
...Sit with what you have noticed for a minute...and offer it to God. What is God’s response to what you have shared? What is God saying to you through this?
Take some time...and as you are moved to do so, share what you are hearing back from God in this moment in the chat comments.
I want to close this time by sharing this poem from Steve Garnaas-Holmes called Dry Bones.
There are parts of you,
maybe great parts,
that have withered and died.
Maybe spiritual gifts that you have buried,
a face of yourself you have closeted,
wounds ignored, hopes starved.
Some have passed on, forever.
But some, God may breathe life into.
God may bring bone to bone and sinew to sinew.
You may be aware of it; a daily ache.
Or it may be unknown to you,
a hidden mystery.
What part of you is God bringing back to life?
Where is God's breath blowing,
the dry bones moving?
Don't direct the wind.
Don't even worry where it is.
Just prophesy to the dry bones.
Be open to the miracle.
Let God breathe, and wait.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and almost 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.