Living Bones


Lent 5A2023
Ezekiel 37:1-14

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. Thus begins our reading from Ezekiel.

Unless this scripture was read during Easter Vigil, the last time we read this scripture was March 29, 2020. Remember the world on March 29, 2020? We were two weeks into the pandemic in Arizona. On March 14, 2020, Bishop Hutterer had strongly recommended that congregations not meet in person for at least two weeks. On March 31, then-governor Doug Ducey issued Stay-at-Home Orders. Streets and highways went quiet; I remember going for my morning run right on Thomas Road, not the sidewalk, the actual street. Everyone who could shifted their lives to work at home. Schools closed or never reopened after spring break. We all purchased zoom accounts and discovered YouTube streaming and Facebook Live. At every cough, we wondered if we had the coronavirus and flocked to drive-through testing sites attended by nurses in full protection gear. On the streets and sidewalks in my neighborhood, people had written in chalk phrases like: We’re all in this together. On March 29, 2020, there was no division among us. We were scared and confused and didn’t know what to do. Of course, we know what happened next; Covid-19 and its consequences laid waste our community, many communities. Full-blown arguments and division driven by fear and isolation, misunderstandings and political games—among our family and friends, in church communities, at school board meetings, in Congress. Many, many deaths of beloved people, people we couldn’t even visit in the hospital. Devastating economic consequences and life made even more impossible for people experiencing homelessness—when not even public libraries were open for people to use the restroom and charge their phones. Long-term consequences borne by our young children still developing and a society already fractured driven more deeply into political extremes. A valley of dry bones. And maybe, when we look out at the landscape of Esperanza, of our family, of our culture at large, maybe we still see vestiges of that valley of dry bones.

To us this morning, God asks: Mortal, can these bones live?

The ancient Israelites whose figurative bones were lying in this valley had been laid waste by the Babylonians. Not just three years but 39 or 48 years of exile, depending on how its counted. Their temple destroyed. Their families torn apart. Beloved ones dead. Nearly all ancient Jews bound and brought to Babylon. The effect of the Babylonian Exile on God’s people can hardly be overestimated. The people grieved, hard, and their hope was lost. They were, in effect, a valley of dry bones. So, when God asks the prophet Ezekiel: Mortal, can these bones live? Notice Ezekiel does not say “yes” or “no.” Instead, he says: O Lord God, you know. Perhaps because Ezekiel really isn’t sure. Notice that God doesn’t just raise these dry bones from the dead out of nothing. Notice God calls on Ezekiel to participate. Prophesy to these bones, God says. Prophesy breath and sinew and skin. And prophesy to the breath, God says. And when Ezekiel does, bones come together, skin covers them, breath enters them and they live and stand on their feet, a vast multitude. And then, God says: Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Not an individual, not a small community, but the whole house of Israel. And, God continues, I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.

Mortal, can these bones live? Yes, they can. If Ezekiel had said: “Absolutely not. We are lost” perhaps they would have been though we don’t know because he didn’t say that. The historical reality is that exile ended. The temple was rebuilt. Though changed, families reunited. People returned to their land. The same old problems of the days before the exile emerged, namely economic injustice, just as if the exile had never happened.

These bones can live. Our life together as people of God can and is being resurrected. By the power of the Holy Spirit. Notice that we made it through the pandemic. Notice how each one of us put one foot in front of the other. Notice how we made meals for nurses and the good folks of Grace Lutheran. Notice how we went right on knitting prayer shawls and teaching children at Children of Hope. Notice how we allowed ourselves to be uncomfortable and how we allowed our patterns to change. Notice how things have changed and how we have been part of that change.

Life at Esperanza and in our own households isn’t perfect. Life continues to march on with the full, vivid chorus of illness and death, birth and constant change. Perhaps we’ll never figure out the mystery of how to live stream with the powerpoint with just a flip of a few switches and a couple passwords. Perhaps we will carry on being ornery with each other because we aren’t perfect and we make mistakes. Perhaps change will always be hard, with a few of us out in front and most of us lagging behind, reluctant to get pulled along. But by the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, these bones can live, do live, will live. If today we are invested in going back and investigating these bones, telling story after story about the despair of these bones, rehashing the mistakes and failings of ourselves, this community, or the world, we will miss the way God has already put bone to bone, covered them with flesh, and breathed life into them.

Here at Esperanza, we are people of hope, and this could be our story of re-birth. Mortal, can these bones live? By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are people of hope, so yes, these bones can live. Thanks be to God! Amen.