GUEST POST: This is a homily delivered by Mackenzie Steele at All Saints Church of Christ on April 2, 2017. Thanks, Mackenzie!
There are two realities present in the season of Lent: One, I am a broken person dependent upon God for redemption. Two, the world is a broken place, created for good and dependent on God through the work of the Spirit to return to that intended good. In the first, I am defined by my sinful nature; indeed I view myself entirely bad and in need of the grace of God each day. This may be true, and I would not discount the need for this reminder through the season of Lent. But, as a recovering fundamentalist, being defined by my sinfulness creates a legalism that I find unhealthy in my relationship with God. Which leads me to the second reality of Lent: the world is indeed a broken place, where the story of God has been replaced by stories of consumerism and greed and a false sense of happiness and security. Although it was created for good, it has fallen prey to brokenness. This is the world in which the church finds itself. In both of these realities, Lent is understood as the recognition of sinfulness and brokenness in preparation for the glorious celebration of Easter.
So I have found myself in tension this week in preparing for today because the texts from the Lectionary this week, as we have heard them already, are resurrection texts. The turn towards resurrection life, although typically reserved for Easter Sunday, is a necessary reality this afternoon. It would be impossible to read Ezekiel 37 and not hear the beautiful language of new life coming up from the dust. The desperate nature of Lent is important, but I think it can be heard in this resurrection text as much as anywhere else.
In my initial reading of this text, it was easy to focus on myself as the dry bones, the broken person in need of God’s redemption. And for the purposes of Lent, this is one good reading of this passage. However, I would suggest that we focus on that second reality of Lent as I mentioned before: we are resurrection people, who live in a broken world in desperate need of God’s promise of resurrection life from Spirit-empowered people. So we look forward to the second coming of Jesus, in which all things are made new. And we wait in the season of Lent, recognizing our dependence on God as new-creation people to partner with God for the sake of the world.
I would like to read this passage again, and allow you to imaginatively experience this text in light of this truth: the world is the valley God has placed the redeemed church within. God desires for the church to speak new breath into the world as Ezekiel does for the bones. Allow yourself to enter the scene of this text: a valley full of dry bones, lying in wait for the mighty work of the Spirit through Ezekiel. Let me read this again as you enter into your imagination, recognizing that our imaginations are animated by the Spirit who is at work in all things:
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.
Imagine this scene. Take in the sights, smells, sounds. Allow yourself to enter into this moment as Ezekiel did, with the hand of the Lord resting upon you.
And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon 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.”
Imagine how you would react to this request. What thoughts go through your head? What emotions do you feel? How is your body responding to this command from God?
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.
Can you hear the surprised tone? Everything had happened exactly as God had commanded. And yet, the actual life hadn’t been breathed into the bodies yet.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Recognize the power of this moment. Life was returned to the death of the valley. We were allowed to partner with God in the act of making things new. God chose us to be vessels for his power, and the display of his power created a reality within us that we didn’t know existed. God answers his own question that he poses to us. “Can these bones live?” Yes, and they will be a sign of the power of God for the rest of the world to see. More than that, the embodied experience of making new life is a reality that we now carry; we have confidence that we can partner with God in redeeming creation again.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
The Lord promises to meet us in our graves and pull us out. God meets us in our humanity, in our frailty, and gives us the Spirit of life. By this we know that he is God. And by this we desire for others to know that he is God.
We are partners with God for the sake of the world. We have been called to breathe the Spirit of life into the death of the world, where pain and suffering and brokenness reign and where hope seems lost. We the church are called to live lives animated by the Spirit, experienced in our own resurrection from the dead in our baptism into new life. Just like Ezekiel, we have been given the power of an embodied experience of new life. Just think of the moment when you surrendered your life to Jesus. That lived experience of dying to ourselves and being raised into the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation upon which we recognize the power of God in our lives and in the world. Think of the other aspects of assembled worship:
We sing songs that remind us who we are and who we worship, and that transformation of identity shapes the ways we think and speak during our week. We give of ourselves financially, and that creates a discipline of generosity that we practice in more ways than monetarily throughout our week. We listen to the word of God proclaimed, and this grounds our knowledge in Scripture as a participatory narrative for our week. We take communion, participating in the sacrifice and power of God as a sending into the world, that we may live as children of God redeemed by Jesus and empowered by the Spirit.
In our gathering, we breathe in the life of community and we are reminded of our sending out into the world. These are the experiences through which we are trained to worship God in our week, and in our worship we are aware of the presence of God at work and our calling to partner with God for the redemption of all things. In this we place our hope, even as we recognize the brokenness of the world. This is the tension we live in, particularly in the season of Lent. And this is what makes our celebration of Easter that much more important: in Easter, we celebrate our resurrection in the present and the hope of the resurrection to come for all of creation.
May we the church, who claim resurrection power through the Spirit at work within us, partner with God to breathe life into the valley of the dry bones around us, and hope in eager expectation for the fullness of resurrection life in the Kingdom to come. Amen.