Rattling Bones

Ezekiel is having a moment today. In our first reading (Ezekiel 37:1-14), “the hand of the Lord” sets him down in the middle of a valley. Ezekiel is having a vision which might be happening only in his mind. For him, this could be a very vivid dream. But I like to make this story real. I see God physically grabbing Ezekiel by the hair and carrying him into this valley full of dried bones. When he lands, I imagine his feet touching the bones. The bones rustle, clang, and clatter as he kicks them around. His religious concern about being unclean is overwhelmed by the sheer number of bones he sees. The visual overload he is experiencing would stop him from even processing what is going on. In that moment, he wouldn’t know what to say. His brain would just shut down. He could do nothing but look and see. And, in the process, he would be as still and dry as the bones around him.

God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. Prophesy is more than a prediction of the future. Prophecy is a life-giving word for right now. The words Ezekiel shares are words of promise. As he speaks, life takes hold, even among old bones. The bones start to move. The bones start to rattle. And if I was there with Ezekiel, I would be terrified. It’s sometimes easier to stay among dry bones than to see those bones rattled. It’s sometimes easier to stay with the status quo or keep things the way they are than to see the chaos and unpredictability that rattling can bring about. As the bones rattle, fear grows. But the rattling of bones is not the end of the story. Change happens. The bones turn into something new. As the vision evolves, God’s own breath comes into view.

When Ezekiel experienced this vision, he was living through the destruction of Jerusalem. Waves and waves of people were being deported from the city. The Babylonians would burn God’s Temple to the ground. The dry bones Ezekiel sees are not only metaphorical. They point to a community feeling hopeless because their sense of who they are is coming undone. Their world felt like it was coming to an end. But God promises God’s presence even when conflict, loss, and fear are all we feel. God’s Word makes a difference. And the final chapter of the story God is writing is a story that includes hope, life, love, and us.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 5th Sunday in Lent, 4/2/2017.