Kenora 5th Lent
29 March 2020
God of compassion,
you call us out of the bindings of death
on this, our resurrection day:
make us ready to surrender the fear in which we hide
to step into your future alive and unashamed;
through Jesus Christ, the life of the world. Amen.
Today’s passage from the book of Ezekiel is one that I often find intriguing, as we make our way through the Lenten cycle of readings.
I find it intriguing because, when we look at the passage, we see that God brings Ezekiel away from all places of civilization, to a place where a battle had been fought and the dead had been left to the forces of nature to decompose.
We don’t know whose bones these were, we don’t know who participated in the battle, or what sides are represented, here on the valley floor, but we know that right now they belong to God.
I find it intriguing because God, at each stage, following the question “Mortal can these bones live?” and Ezekiel’s answer “O Lord God, you know.” God’s response is “Prophesy to these bones. …” (Ezek 37:3-4a)
At the same time, this is where our story begins. This is where God’s example to Ezekiel, about the whole people of Israel, about all of us who believe, begins.
“Then [God] 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 say the Lord God…” (ezek 37: 11-12a)
And here we come to the heart of God’s message to Ezekiel, to the people of Israel, and to each one of us, still, today.
If you look at it, God’s example, to each one of us, is to remember that God is able to bestow life where God sees life is needing to be bestowed, to be renewed, to be reminded that our life centres on and exists in God.
God demonstrates that God is able to resurrect not only our physical bodies, but at the same time, reminds us why we are alive. God is able to connect us with God through Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit as well as with each other.
“O my people, I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…” (Ezek 37:14a)
Now, I know that these are exceptional times that we live in, these days, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t an active participant in our lives, in our concerns, in our world.
It doesn’t mean that with the challenges that we’re currently facing that God is any more distant today than God was yesterday, but even the Hebrew people, both those at home and those in exile, in Ezekiel’s day, felt that God wasn’t close.
Their impression, and often ours is that God feels like God was watching the human condition, the human story from so far away that we’d need the Hubble telescope to find God in the cosmos.
But if we look at the passage, from Ezekiel, today, God reminds us that God’s word, that Ezekiel’s prophesy bolsters us in the same way that God’s command of , or direction of Ezekiel’s prophesy brings new life to bones so old, and so decomposed that they rattle on the valley floor.
God’s word, Ezekiel’s prophesy brings new life to our ‘old bones’.
It gives new muscle and new sinew to the desiccated frames of our faith, enlivening each one of us with God’s promises that tell us “you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezek 37:13a)
And in these stressful times, isn’t that a great message of hope for each one of our hearts, our lives, today?
In this time of fear and of pandemic, as our world continues to encourage each one of us to ‘hunker down’, to ‘social distance’, to ‘self-isolate’ in order to ‘minimize the spread of this pandemic’ in our communities, in our nation, in the world, we are able to hear God ask Ezekiel “Mortal, can these bones live?” and we are able to hear Ezekiel’s reply “O Lord God, you know.” (Ezek 37:3b)
We can sense his confusion, in this valley of dried bones. We can understand his uncertainty in his reply to God, but at the same time, we also understand his desire to believe in God that something good will come in this dried desiccated place in the middle of nowhere.
And this is what God shows to him, demonstrates to him as he increases the people of Israel with those on the valley floor.
As we gather in our homes with our immediate family we are able to hear the rattle of the dry desiccated bones of the battlefield, as God speaks, as Ezekiel prophesies and as they seek to fulfill the will of God, spoken by Ezekiel in the hot sunshine.
We hear them rattle and clatter as they move across the valley floor and find each other from where carrion has carried them to gnaw and to chew over the years.
At the same time, we hear the bones reassemble, and come together, as they stand upright, as they grow sinew and muscle and flesh.
Throughout it all, like an echo across the valley, an echo in our ear, we hear the voice of God say “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them…” and we hear Ezekiel prophesy. (Ezek 37:4)
“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.
[Can you hear it? Can you see it in your imagination, in your mind’s eye?]
I looked , and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them,
[do you see them, standing there, on the valley floor, waiting for the word of God, the breath of the Holy Spirit to be fully alive?]” (Ezek 37:7)
During this time in Ezekiel’s life, the people of Israel were in exile within the Babylonian empire. They were far from home, they were separated from friends, family, clans, and familiar places.
Today, in our attempts to fulfill the directives of governments and medical experts, really, we’re all currently experiencing a type of exile, in our lives, today, and we need to remember Ezekiel and his experience in the valley of dried bones.
We need to be reminded, in the same way that the Israelite people also needed to hear Ezekiel’s words, that, although we might feel like it, God isn’t far away.
We need to remember, in the midst of everything that we’re currently going through, that God is right at our side, going through this with us; and although we are being asked to ‘social distance’, and to ‘self isolate’, God isn’t doing either of those things.
This is where we’re able to find God, today: at our sides, within in our isolation, within that 6-foot radius that we’re told to keep between us and the person next to us, because this is where we need God to be, so God is here.
In the same way that God was with Ezekiel in the Valley of Dried Bones, God is with each one of us, bolstering us up, encouraging us in our exile, in our isolation, holding us tight in our anxieties and in our fears.
As God said to Ezekiel “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.” (Ezek 37:9)
So, Ezekiel prophesied, the bones lived, and Ezekiel carried the message back to the exiled people of God that they, and that we, are not forgotten. That God walks with us, and holds us in the midst of our fears and our insecurities, in the midst of our periods of fear and terror at the events of the day.
After all, this isn’t the first-time that pandemic that has struck the world, and in the life of the world, it probably won’t be the last.
This isn’t the first time that people have been exiled from their routines, from their lives, for various reasons, but we have to remember that in all of this insecurity and turmoil, were not alone.
God’s message to the people of Israel, and to each one of us, is that there is no aspect of our lives that is outside of God’s touch, God’s compassion, God’s love.
Distance from each other doesn’t keep God ‘at arms length’ from each one of us.
Distance that’s intended to ‘flatten the curve’ in the spread of this pandemic disease, yes, but it doesn’t keep God away from or out of our lives, or our hearts.
God isn’t even distant from our interactions with each other whether across a laneway, down the street, by telephone, or internet, video conferencing, or even prayer.
There have been encouragements to come out on our porches, and doorsteps and make noise to encourage our health care workers.
There have been times of prayer and services offered in various ways over the internet.
There have been candles lit to encourage each one of us that we’re all in this together, and God is in our midst.
So, each and every day, we are still in each other’s lives, and this is because God is still in each of our lives.
In today’s passage from Ezekiel, we see God bestow life where we couldn’t see it, without God’s help, without Ezekiel’s prophesy.
Well, today we have that help, and with God’s word, with Ezekiel’s prophesy, an entire valley of those who were dead are dead no longer because God commanded them to become alive.
In our hearts, like those in Babylonian exile, feel beaten and bruised.
Our minds are running in circles like a rodent in a maze, and we have that unease and anxiety that means we’re not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow, much less what the world will look like at the end of this period of closed borders and social distancing.
But through it all, we have God’s presence in our lives. We have Ezekiel’s witness of the power of God’s love, and we have each other as we bear witness to the love of God in these difficult days.
We bear witness to each other in how we connect with each other, in how we are able to reach out, and how those we love are able to reach back until we are able to gather together once more, in the light of God’s love for all of humanity.