Fifth Sunday in Lent 2 April 2017
(Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 Romans 8:6-11 John 11:1-45)
“The Walking Dead–Alive!”
This evening is the finale of Season 7 of the TV show “The Walking Dead.”
It seems as if we are getting an early preview of this season finale from the prophet Ezekiel! But not to worry, no need for a “spoilers’ alert!” It feels as if we have “The Walking Dead” at St. James on a Sunday morning! A field of dead dry bones coming alive! This is one of those readings that begs to be listened to with your eyes! Come on; get real, bones coming alive?
But if that wasn’t enough, were you listening with your eyes to the Gospel reading? A dead man in a tomb for four days and out he comes still all wrapped in his grave clothing!
Pretty thrilling readings this morning, what do you say?
But here’s the thing! Even though these images of bones coming alive and a person coming out of a tomb alive, and even if these are the types of things that get our blood flowing on a Sunday morning, I want to slow us down a bit. I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves!
So I want us to back up into these two earlier images. The first is the field of bones while they are still very dry and very dead. Second, I want us to back into the tomb while the man is still all bound up in his grave clothing.
Let’s begin with Ezekiel. In Ezekiel, before the bones begin dancing the Hokey Pokey, there is a whole lot happening. The picture is this: God sets the prophet down in the middle of a valley which is full of bones—dead bones. God takes Ezekiel by the hand and they walk around looking at these decrepit, dry bones that are scattered all over the ground. We are being shown a pretty horrendous picture! So what is the prophet saying?
The best answer I have found comes from Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Polish-born Jewish rabbi, who lost his mother and three sisters at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. When talking about scriptural prophecy from a Jewish perspective he writes that, some prophets try to figure out the will of God, but Jewish prophets want to remind their audience that God has human feelings, that God’s voice is heard in the voice for the voiceless, and in the poor and in the oppressed.
Heschel says: “Prophecy is the voice that God has given to the silent agony, the plundered poor, and the profane riches of the world. When prophets are disturbed or when prophets are speaking comfort, it is really God being disturbed or God comforting those who are in need of God’s healing presence!” 1
For me, for us, I first want to hear the silent agony and the hushed comfort of God’s voice in those dead dry bones scattered across the valley. I want us to see God and Ezekiel walking hand in hand among those lifeless bones, the plundered poor, the hopeless hearts, and the profane riches of the world. And I want to say that if we don’t take time to understand those dead bones while they are still dead, then when these bones come alive and start dancing, our understanding of “them dry bones walking around” can only be a superficial understanding!
When I say I don’t want to move too quickly through this text, what I mean is that before we get to Easter we have to walk through Holy Week and Good Friday.
Those lifeless bones take many forms in our lives, very often right within our hearts and souls, in our own sorrows and self doubts, in our struggles with addictions and anger and desperation.
But there is more to this story. We need to sing at the top of our lungs that these bones came alive and began to dance! We need to sing at the top of our lungs that it was the very winds of God, coming from the four ends of the earth, the same breath that brought life out of chaos at creation, and the same breath and wind that was the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the same breath that is within each one of us, the Spirit that comes slips into our lives at Holy Baptism.
“Oh my people,” God says, “I will open your graves….and I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” [Ez. 37:13]. So very often our lives are right there in that field, sometimes our lives feel and look like those dead bones; but may we never forget that always, always, always we walk in the hand of God!
At our Wednesday Bible Study we realized how the theme from the Ezekiel text directly parallels the theme from the Gospel when Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb and realizes Lazarus is still all bound up in his grave clothing. Like the breath of God in the Ezekiel text, it is the voice of Jesus that unbinds the grave clothing from Lazarus!
From the Valley of the Dry Bones, from the Darkened Tomb, be assured today to know that God’s breath is within you! You are redeemed, sinner and saint, alike! I’m glad we will sing out in a few moments: “Jesus is a Rock in a weary land!” [LBW 333].
May we be together today ready to respond to the voice of the One who commands our deadness to come alive, and that same voice that commands us to be unbound and set free, May we feel the Wind of the Spirit breathing new life into us, most especially when the dead bones become the silent agony of God.
The coming alive of the dry bones and the raising of Lazarus reminds us that even despite the fact that we’ve been raised by Jesus, there is still death among us, that we are left still struggling to reconcile all that is not life-giving, all the grave clothing that binds us; we are left to reconcile all of this with a deeper understanding of the resurrection to new life which is the best in each of us for the salvation of the world. Amen.
1. The Prophets. Abraham Joshua Heschel. Chapter 1.