Read the text here: Ezekiel 37:1-14 - The Valley of Dry Bones
Whenever I hear this vision of the valley of the dry bones from Ezekiel I think of the scene from “The Lion King” where little Simba and Nala are tricked into wandering into the elephant graveyard. It sounds like such a cool place, until they actually get there and then they realize that there is more to that place than just a bunch of old bones. There is danger and they are in risk of loosing their lives in this place!
There is a sense of danger that pervades this well-known text as well. But it is a different kind of danger. Simba and Nala faced physical danger in their valley of dry bones, but Ezekiel’s valley holds a different kind of danger: the danger of giving up; the danger of despondency; the danger of accommodation; the danger of hopelessness. Let me set the scene. Ezekiel is perhaps one of the most difficult prophets to read and understand in the entire Old Testament. He certainly was a strange man and lived an equally odd life. If he were alive today he would probably be diagnosed as a sociopath. The book of Ezekiel was considered so strange in antiquity that the Rabbis had a rule that no man under the age of 30 was allowed to read it. And women were not allowed to read it at all. Some of his images are downright strange and offensive, but even so there are moments of brilliance – like the “throne vision” of the chariot (Ezekiel saw da wheel, way up in the middle of the air…) (Ez. 1:4-28 – pew bibles OT p. 597) - and our lesson today – the vision of the valley of dry bones in chapter 37.
Ezekiel was born into an aristocratic priestly family in Anathoth (the same city where Jeremiah was born) and served as a priest at the temple in Jerusalem until he and his family were driven into exile in Babylon when King Nebruchadnezzar besieged and eventually overran Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem in AD 597, leveling the palace and the temple in particular. Those who went into exile with him were faced with some serious questions. How do we make sense of what has happened? Does this Babylonian victory mean that the gods of Babylon are more powerful and greater than YHWH, the God of Israel? How do we live – do we turn our backs on our faith and traditions and become Babylonian? Or do we try to maintain our distinctive traditions? These are the questions that Ezekiel addresses in his visions and prophecies.
"Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely" (v. 11). Israelites in Babylon are living boneyard lives. They see no hope. They take no pleasure in anything. Many of them are giving up on their tradition and embracing a new Babylonian way of life. Many of them spend much of their time in the pursuit of pleasure to dull the pain of the loss of their very identity. One can hardly blame them. But Ezekiel’s vision emerges from the complaint. The dry bones of the people’s lives and their traditions and all that they loved and gave their lives meaning are bleaching in the hot sun. There is no life anymore. There is no hope. But wait. They have not considered the power of the Spirit (Heb. – RUACH – which appears 10 times in this passage!). The Spirit, the wind, the breath of God can still bring life, even in the midst of desolation. The Spirit, the wind, the breath of God can still bring hope from hopelessness and life from death. A new meaning can emerge from seeming meaninglessness.
Fast forward about 400 hundred years to that locked upper room in Jerusalem which is occupied by a despondent and confused group of Jesus’ disciples and followers. Now, Jesus has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit (whatever that is). Jesus has told them they were to be his witnesses and they were to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom into this world in Jesus. But, they cannot see any possibility or hope. They cannot get past the separation. They are living boneyard lives. And then suddenly there is the rush of a mighty wind and tongues of flame ignite these men and women and they are driven out of their safe, locked room and they begin to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is risen; that dry bones can live; that life comes from death and in Christ there is always hope!
The Spirit – the Ruach – the Wind – the Breath of God still is upon us, 2000 years after the disciples had their Pentecost experience and 2500 years after Ezekiel told the hopeless people of Israel a vision about boneyard lives that can become filled with life and hope and potential because of this Spirit of God. What about the dry bones that we encounter in our individual lives and in our lives as a community and as a people? Shall we just give in to the hopelessness, the scapegoating, the fear-mongering, the blame-game, the greedy grasping for ME and MINE, the violent acting out which seems to characterize our society? Is this how we should deal with the serious issues that confront us as a nation and as a people? Do we really have so little faith that we allow the dry bones to define our lives and like the Israelites in Babylon look either to selfish pleasures or giving up and making do? The mighty wind, the Ruach, the breath, the Spirit of God that engulfed the disciples and drove them into the streets is still at work in our world bringing abundant life to boneyard lives and communities. Can you see it? Do you experience it? The Spirit is at work in your life; in this church, parish and community calling us to stop gazing into the mirrors of our self-pity and to open our hearts and our eyes and respond to God’s call and begin reaching out in the power of the Spirit to do the work of the Kingdom to which we are called.
An audio recording of this sermon is posted in the media section of the website for the Wartburg Coorperative Parish. Click here!