Ezekiel records a vision that I remember as the Valley of Dry Bones. The Israelites have been scattered. The community has been dismantled. The elite, or the educated, the top tier of their society has been taken captive and removed to another land. They have lost hope of ever being a people with a future.
This vision where God asks Ezekiel to stand and prophesy to a valley of dry bones says to us that where we have no hope in ourselves, there is hope through God. God who creates can recreate as well. However, it seems that the Israelites were even worse off than they originally thought. Not only were they scattered, but they were dead, long dead, so that the prophesy had to be done twice, first to pull them together, then to give them life.
I thought first of the country of South Africa and the wonderful film, Invictus. After the end of Apartheid, for the nation to have a life and a future, they had to come together in a new way. A new breath had to be breathed into them. With this breath came a new vision for the future. To not be more alive in the ways of the past, but in a new way.
Secondly, I thought of this country, first in the past as we came through the Civil War and the slaves were freed, then in the modern day. We, too, had to go through the same process that South Africa did, but we did it with less grace and less forgiveness due to the leadership at that time. First we had to come together as a new community. Then, God had to breathe into us a new life and a new vision, to be this country in a new way. Out of this came the Emancipation Proclamation, the fourteen amendment and a hundred years later, the Civil Rights movement. This change was harder than most of us acknowledge. There is talk even today amongst some congressmen of repealing or rewriting the fourteenth amendment so that being born in this country is not automatically a guarantee of citizenship. We, too, are worse off than we realized. Some of that old dead stuff still remains within our community.
Thirdly, someone suggested this passage may also be true of the church. Many in the church are grieving the loss of the church of the 1950’s, the involvement of the families, the amazing programs and communities that were present in those days. We are no longer that church. We are sixty years away from the days when women dedicated themselves primarily to the family, home, and church. The mainline churches lose members each year. There is no going back to what we were before and no need. God is always doing a new thing.
Instead of trying to go back, we need to hear a prophesy from God. And hearing that prophesy, God will pull us together, put sinews and muscles and skin on our bodies. And, then, we need a second prophesy that breathes life into the community, forming a new community of faith. Our hope is not in ourselves but in God who creates and re-creates.
Part of our work is to puzzle out what it is that God is calling us to do. Then, another part is to do that work of being the church. How can we be the church in this era of busyness?
How do we proclaim the good news to the exhausted and depleted, if not physically depleted, then the spiritually depleted?
Where in this Valley of Dry Bones is the well from which we can drink, the prophesies that will bring us life?
As a follower of Jesus, I turn to him. In these weeks leading up to the walk to the cross, I am reminded of the following passage:
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” [John 6:67-69 (New International Version, ©2011]
We continue to read and apply the scriptures to our daily lives, as the Spirit breathes new life into us, showing us new possibilities. Then, as we bring to the world the news that God loves them, the Spirit breathes new life into us and into this world, giving us abundant life to share with all those around us. We, like Israel, do not have this life for us alone. It is for the benefit of all the earth. The church is not experiencing the exile that the Israelites did, but it is experiencing a change. May the Spirit pull us together and breathe new life into us so that we may be a blessing to this world that God loves so much,
As in ages past and in time to come, our hope is in the Lord who created heaven and earth.