Pre-Lenten Reflection from the Rev. Jan Smith Wood

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Meditation on Ezekiel 37:1-14

"Mortal, can these bones live? O Lord God, you know."

Why does God ask Ezekiel about the viability of the dry bones?
And what does the question mean?

Might it be that God is asking Ezekiel whether these bones can live in order to make sure that this MORTAL understands that he is NOT-GOD.
or to highlight how severely limited are Ezekiel's abilities, knowledge and wisdom?

(Ezekiel's answer would seem to affirm such an interpretation of the question-behind-the-question. He puts it right back on God, basically saying "Beats me. You're God!")

Is the question asking whether the bones are capable of renewal?
or whether these bones be deserving?
Is God asking whether renewal is possible?
Could God be asking Ezekiel for permission? or seeking his opinion?

CAN these bones live? - is it possible?
can THESE bones live? - do they deserve to live?
can these BONES live? - a different vision of death and life?
can these bones LIVE? - is there a different future than what we see before us?

Taking our cue from all the action that follows,
the question, "Mortal, can these bones live?"
might also be an invitation to partnership.
Perhaps implicit in this question is an opportunity for Ezekiel
to be co-creator and partner with God,
conspiring to bring new life to the dry bones.

God can bring these dry bones to life, yes. With Ezekiel's help.
God and Ezekiel, together, bring new life to the dry bones.
Nothing happens without both of them.

What dry bones await our conspiracy with God, so that they might live?

Do we get hung up on judgment and miss the invitation to participate in God's healing power?
THESE bones do not deserve new life!

Are we so captivated by that which we can measure, replicate, and control that we are incapable of seeing the potential life in very very dry bones scattered all over this far-away valley?
These bones CANNOT POSSIBLY live!

Are there times when we find ourselves surrounded by death, dryness, and aridity - and believe it will never be other than it is right now?
That what we see is what we get, what we've always gotten, and what we will ever get?
These bones are dead. End of story.

When we give in to such rigid preconceptions and misperceptions,
a great deal is lost, including life itself.
We shut ourselves away from all that God offers,
all that God is doing,
all that is of God.

We also shut ourselves away from all that God has made us to be,
to become, and to do - by God.

***

If that weren't enough for a lifetime of consideration and contemplation,
the story continues and we hear how God and Ezekiel collaborate to bring the bones to life.

But that collaboration and creativity are not really the point of the story-
nor the object of our contemplation.
The centerpiece, the purpose, of this story is captured in its beginning and ending.
The in-between is poetic, powerful, and visual - but not the point.

The "bookends" are.

"Mortal, can these bones live? Oh Lord, God, you know."
and
"Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost; we are cut off completely."

Turns out the bones are the people of God, the whole house of Israel.

Turns out that not only is it vital that we understand our partnership with God, and be open to the ways in which we are invited to co-creation and conspiracy, it is equally vital that we learn to tell the truth of our own impoverishment, desiccation, and despair.

Our bones are dried up.
Our hope is lost.
We are cut off completely.

We have to admit our need, our dryness, our yearning, before God can act.

Ironic, isn't it?
We spend an extraordinary amount of time, treasure and energy trying to avoid and deny the emptiness within - when we have to give voice to it before we can begin to be made whole.
In our attempts to avoid that which we fear,
we do precisely that which will keep us enthralled to that which we fear.

Ezekiel's vision could be spooky.
We could see this as a zombie story.
The dead come back to life against all odds.

Interesting to think about when we consider how popular zombie stories are these days. There are zombie candies, cartoons, jokes, movies, games, walks... Of course, it is mostly "just fun", but why have zombies so captured our collective imagination?

Zombies are:
dead and don't know it
they just keep on going: never stopping, never being stopped
contagious and scary

Could there be something that resonates with us in times of uncertainty, scarcity, fear, and doubt?

Do we live in times and communities where melancholia, depression, meaninglessness are unrelenting and ceaseless?

Might we, like the "whole house of Israel", need to admit that our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off completely?

Could the popularity of zombies and the "fun" they create be helping us to give voice to the deadness of our lives?
the hopelessness of our lives?
our isolation and loneliness?

For thousands of years, people have experienced moments when life seems empty, meaningless, and hollow.

Ezekiel's vision is witness to this shared human experience.
There's no shame in feeling dried up and dead inside - but there's no denying it either.

Losing hope happens.
But hope need not remain lost to us.

We find ourselves cut off completely in so many ways.
Perhaps to feel isolated and cut off is to know the depths of our need for one another, for community and significance.

These feelings will keep on coming, keep on growing, spread everywhere - just like zombies - until and unless we admit of our need, pain, and desolation.

Only God can make our dry bones live.
Only God can restore our hope.
Only God can bring us back from isolation.

But first, we must speak the unspeakable.
We must name that which we fear to name.
We must admit our need, loss, sorrow.

Like the whole house of Israel, we need to say
OUR bones are dried up;
OUR hope is gone;
WE are cut off completely.

Then God can get busy.
Then God will say to us now as God said to them then:
"I will put my spirit within you and you shall live"

I will put my spirit within you - and you shall live.

You shall regain hope. You shall no longer be cut off.

You shall be blessed and made whole.

The Rev. Jan Smith Wood
Grace Church, Sandusky