Sunday, April 10, 2011

Some say we're born into the grave

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. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

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. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “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.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he 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 says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

- Ezekiel 37:1-14

This is one of the great stories of the Bible. One year at a church Halloween party, I heard someone tell it to a group of kids, sitting in darkness, complete with sound effects (a bunch of drumsticks in a box rattling around). And, of course, we all know the old spiritual about “dem dry bones”—not to mention the bleak, hard-rockin’, excellent Alice in Chains song.

But what is the main point of this story? To what does Ezekiel’s vision point? Well, the story isn’t actually about physical death, for one thing—it’s about spiritual death. It’s about a whole people feeling cut off and hopeless. And there’s a promise here that all is not lost—God will restore their hope. But when?

The Gospel reading paired with this one is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I’ll go out on a limb and say that this story isn’t about physical death, either—at least, not exclusively. There are a million little resurrections happening in our lives every day, from a healed injury to a rekindled friendship to a new perspective. Sometimes these resurrections may seem to take too long—but they do come. Even when everything seems hopeless, hope is on the way.

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