The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Ezekiel 37:1-14, The Valley of the Dry Bones
I try pretty hard to not repeat myself from one sermon to the next. But today, I am going to repeat myself, at least to some degree.
Last week I told you how fortunate we were to have Psalm 23 as our appointed psalm. It was exactly what we needed to hear. We needed to be reminded that the Lord is our shepherd and we shall not be in want. We needed to be reassured that all shall be well.
Last week we stood in the valley of the shadow of death. This week we stand in the valley of dry bones. They’re not two different valleys. Both are the valley of COVID-19. How fortunate are we that today the valley of dry bones is one of our assigned scripture readings? It’s exactly what we, our country, and our world need to hear.
The valley of dry bones is a story of hope. It’s a story of promise. It’s a story about a people who have a future. If “all shall be well” is the theme that runs through Psalm 23, then “you shall live” is the theme that runs through the valley of dry bones.
“Mortal, can these bones live?” the Lord asks Ezekiel. I suspect it’s a question most of us are wondering about. Can we recover from this? And, if so, when and how will that happen? What will our future look like?
Ezekiel responds but he doesn’t answer the question. He just says, “O Lord God, you know.”
I so appreciate the honesty in what Ezekiel says. I hear his uncertainty. I sense his feeling of powerlessness. I picture him looking around and shaking his head at the overwhelming enormity of it all. God only knows if these bones can live again.
That’s how I feel every time I read the newest numbers of cases, deaths, job losses, and financial hardships. And I’m guessing you might feel the same way. Today we are all Ezekiel.
I know how easy it is to focus on and despair over the number of dry bones. But I also know that is not the final story of God and God’s people. So I want to give you some other numbers to focus on: ten and three. They’re sacred numbers. They’re numbers on which you can bet your life and future – and it would be a good bet.
Ten times God promises to do something about the dry bones, even to the point of repeating God’s self:
- “I will cause breath to enter you”;
- “I will lay sinews on you”;
- I “will cause flesh to come upon you”;
- I will “cover you with skin”;
- I will “put breath in you”;
- “I am going to open your graves”;
- I am going to “bring you up from your graves”;
- “I will bring you back to your land”;
- “I will put my spirit within you”; and
- “I will place you on your own soil.”
Ten times God promises life and wholeness. Ten times God promises return and homecoming. Ten times God promises that the dry bones of this valley are not our final reality. Throughout those ten promises – at the beginning, the middle, and the end – God says, “and you shall live.” “You shall live” is the river of reassurance that flows through the valley of dry bones.
God says it three times:
- “And you shall live”;
- “And you shall live”;
- “And you shall live.”
Those promises and reassurances are the path we walk in this valley. So the next time you read the numbers in the news, the next time your get scared, the next time you feel anxious and overwhelmed, remember those other numbers, ten and three. Remember God’s promises. Remember God’s reassurances. And then listen for the rattle; the rattling of “bones com[ing] together, bone to its bone.”
That rattling sounds like faith, hope, and love. It sounds like courage and a refusal to be ruled by fear. It sounds like people praying Psalm 23. It sounds like church bells ringing in remembrance. It sounds like helping those who have lost jobs or work hours. It sounds like patience, gentleness, and compassion for others and ourselves. It sounds like support and care for healthcare providers, first responders, and essential workers. It sounds like people asking, “Are you ok? Do you need anything?” It sounds like people smiling and laughing as they connect on Zoom. It sounds like a text message saying, “All shall be well.” It sounds like an openness to the future. It sounds like life, and life abundant.
So let’s rattle this valley. Let’s rattle this valley like it’s never been rattled before.