Dry Bones Can Live!

Mar 26, 2023

Sermon 3-26-23
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     As we reflect on Ezekiel today, it seems to me that the passage is not difficult to interpret or understand. Today’s Old Testament reading begins with the clear message that all is lost. The image is so striking that it is not easy to forget … a valley of skeletons, of bones as dry as dust, on their way to being dust. The bones represent death in all its finality.
     This is the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision, compliments of the Lord; he is led among the bones, so there is no question about what he is seeing. There is no life. Then, the Lord asks a seemingly ridiculous question, “Can these bones live?” It’s not difficult to imagine that the Prophet wants to say, “No, of course not!” From the human point of view there is no hope. But…he’s dealing with the Lord, after all, so his response is, “O Lord God, you know.”
     Let’s pause here to recall that we’ve reached the fifth and last of the Old Testament lessons for Lent that have focused on God’s interaction with one (or two) people, with their impact on all in mind – Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, King David and now Ezekiel.
     Today’s context is that it was a dark time for God’s chosen people; Ezekiel was a prophet during the last days of Judah. You may recall that the United Kingdom of Israel was earlier divided, with Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Israel was taken over by the Assyrians more than 100 years earlier. And, in Ezekiel’s time, Judah was overrun by Babylon as a consequence for their unfaithfulness. Many of the people of Judah were sent into exile in Babylon, and Ezekiel was in the first wave of deportees.
     For 11 years in Babylon the Prophet delivered a message of gloom and doom to Judah and the surrounding nations. In 586 BCE, when Jerusalem finally fell, the Temple was burned to the ground and more Judeans were sent into exile. All seemed lost.
     Quoting commentator Stan Mast, “Their world had come to an end. Everything they had trusted, everything that had given their lives shape and meaning was gone – land, homes, property, the Holy City, the Holy Temple, and, most important, their Holy God. (It seemed) their God had been defeated by the gods of the Babylonians. Could it be that their God wasn’t really Lord of all? Or, perhaps their God had deserted them in their darkest hour? Could it be that their Yahweh had broken covenant with them and forsaken them once and for all?” (1)
     It is in this situation that Ezekiel began to prophesy hope – revival, restoration and a glorious future. This dry bone story is the pinnacle prophesy of hope to a hopeless people. The vision is God’s answer to their despair.
     So, can these dry bones live? Yes, by the power of God! Only God can bring new life to a nation that looks like dry bones. God uses words and wind to restore life - the Word of God spoken by a prophet, a human being, today’s one for all, and the Spirit of God. It’s an amazing scene. Bones rattle and come together. Tendons attach bone to bone. Flesh and muscle give strength, and skin covers skeletons.
     (Whenever I hear this description, I’m reminded of looking at the images of the human body in the World Book encyclopedia as a child; there was a picture of a skeleton, and transparent pages that could be laid on it to add the various body parts. The complexity of it fascinated me.)
     So, here are reconstituted bodies, but they are not alive until Ezekiel prophesies again and the four winds blow life into once dry bones. And a vast army stands on their feet. The message is that Israel will be restored, by the will and power of God. (2) Only God can bring life where there is death.
     Today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus’ friend Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, is resuscitated after four days in the tomb is another answer to the question, can these bones live? “Jesus cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out….’” These bones can live, but only by the power of God. It’s a hint of what is to come on Easter.
     While the dry bones of this Old Testament vision symbolized the exiled ancient Israel, it is not too difficult to transfer the image to our time. I think of the photos we have seen from Ukraine in the past year, where it is estimated that 30,000 civilians have died in the war, images of death in the streets and destruction of massive proportion. Can these bones live? Is a new beginning possible? Or, we recall the piles of cement that were once people’s homes that fell on them as they slept in the terrible earth quake in Syria and Turkey. Can these bones live? Is a new beginning possible? Just last night the news showed the devastation caused by tornados in Mississippi, SUVs perched on top of what once a school or a home. Can these bones live? Is a new beginning possible? And, we are well aware of the tragic reality that 100 people die due to gun violence in the United States each day. Can these dry bones live?  Is a new beginning possible? Yes, but only by the power of God.
  And, in our individual lives, we sometimes feel as if we’re walking through a valley of dry bones in our workplaces, churches, homes and relationships, including our relationship with God. Can these bones live? Is a new beginning possible? You know the answer: yes, but only by the power of God. There will be new life; hope is found in God’s promises, and we are energized by the breath of the Spirit. This new life may, however, be different than what was.
     Quoting commentator Doug Bratt, “Death may surround, fill and even chase us. But God is in the business of restoring hope by raising the dead to life and breathing new life into people, relationships and even communities.” (3)
     God overcomes despair with Good News. God restores the broken. God does not leave us where we are. God is present with us in the struggle. Dry bones can live! Amen
  1. Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 29, 2020 by Stan Mast, Ezekiel 37:1-14, www.cepreaching.org
  2. Same as #1
  3. Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 2, 2017m by Doug Bratt, www.cepreaching.org