St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
On a cold and rainy afternoon
One of my favorite biblical stories for Sunday Ezekiel 37:1-14
Some of you will remember Bob Wagnon, who died several years ago. If so you will also remember that famous Easter Vigil when he read the passage properly, and beautifully, and then, without warning, sashayed back down the aisle singing, Dem Bones…which cracked up absolutely everybody! Was it appropriate? Yes.
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. This 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 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.
So what is this about? And what is it NOT about?
What is about historically is the despair felt by the exiled people of God – The people had rebelled against God and now Nebuchadnezzar had sealed their fate.
Ezekiel had tried to warn the people as early as 592 BC – but by now, 586, the country had been invaded, many had been killed or carried off to captivity, and Jerusalem was in ruins.
Clearly the ones who have survived in exile are feeling cut off entirely – from the Temple, from God. Ezekiel does not do or say anything to change their situation. He can’t. But he does offer hope.
This is NOT about unbelievers then or now. It is not a spiritualized or pious reflection on what happens when we feel “dead.” It is about the impossibility of a people who have disobeyed and/or ignored God giving themselves new life.
If Christians read it, we need to read it as it was written: to a people who had drifted into complacency and self-sufficiency and alliances with what is not God –If the Church reads it, it must be as a people who have betrayed the Lord and run after approval – or tax breaks – offered by other “lords.” If we think it applies to us, it must be with the recognition that no program will save us and bring us “back” to our land. Only God can do it.
Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice;
Let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, O Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?
For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared.
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchman for the morning, more than watchman for the morning.
Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy;
With him is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.