“Dem Bones” – April 2, 2017

“Dem Bones”

April 2, 2017 – Lent 5 – Year A

Choir sings “Dem Bones”

Can these bones live?  Preach it sister!  Prophesy to the bones!  “Oh dry bones, hear the word of God!”  Can you see and hear the bones rattling?  Can you see the sinew and flesh?  How about the skin?  Yes, these are living bones!  Life has been breathed into them.   Just like life was breathed into Lazarus.  Isn’t God’s Spirit amazing? 

Rain Stick

God’s hand leads us into the middle of a valley.  The valley was full of bones.  They were lying all over the ground, and they were very dry.

Rain Stick

Can these bones live?  O God, only you know.  Speak up Preacher!  Pronounce and Prophesy to these bones; say “O dry bones, hear the word of God.”

Rain Stick

Can these bones live?  Can you hear the noise?  It is a rattling!  Speak up Preacher!  Prophesy and say to the breath: “Breathe upon these bones, that they may live.”

Rain Stick

These bones live!  Preach it sister!  Prophesy as God commands.  The breath came into the bones, and they live!  The people stood up on their feet –  a huge, living, breathing crowd of people.  The bones are the people of Israel.  The graves are opened and the spirit is within the people.  God proclaims that New Life is restored!  Just look to Lazarus to see the proof!

Rain Stick

So, what do we make of the story of the dry bones?  What does the book of Ezekiel have to say to us today?  Does the song of the Black American slaves have relevance in our lives?  Let me set the scene.  Ezekiel was both a priest and prophet who lived during the Exile.  Taken with others to Babylon in 597 BCE, Ezekiel and the exiled community experienced from there the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, the destruction of the Temple, and the disintegration of the nation.  They were a displaced and despondent people.  Without a land and without a Temple, the exiles considered themselves on a exodus in reverse.  They were in the wilderness on a forced journey from freedom to captivity wondering whether they would ever see the Promised Land again.  “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost,” summarizes their despair.

It is to these hopeless people that Ezekiel prophesies the vision described in our passage today.  Brought “by the Spirit” to a valley of dry bones he is asked by God whether the bones can live.  The logical answer to God’s question is no.  But Ezekiel, knowing the creative power of God, tempers his answer and responds, “only you know, O God.”

Ezekiel is then given God’s word for these bones.  They will come together again – bones, sinew, flesh, and skin.  But putting the pieces back together is not enough.  God’s Spirit is needed.  From the 4 winds God’s Spirit comes to breathe life into a dispirited people.

To a people wondering whether they could live without land or Temple comes the good news that God is Spirit and is not tied to the land nor contained in the Temple.  Nor is God inhibited by the lifeless fear of a dispirited people.  God has come to the wilderness of their exile to give them hope. 

Little did these exiles know their experience would become formative.  The years of reflection and reorientation which took place because of the Exile caused the Hebrew Scripture’s oral tradition to be gathered in written form for the 1st time and initiated the worship pattern of the synagogue.  The practice, begun in these days of despair, of gathering in groups to worship and hear the reading of scripture has sustained both Jewish and Christian faith communities for thousands of years.

Choir sings “Dem Bones” (chorus, 1 verse, chorus)

In the Gospel of John the raising of Lazarus occurs just prior to Jesus entering Jerusalem and is one of the catalysts for the decision to kill Jesus.  Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is seriously ill.  Jesus does not arrive, however, until Lazarus has been in the tomb 4 days.  Since Jewish belief at the time thought the soul hovered around the grave for 3 days before departing, the 4 days show there is no possibility of life left.  These are “dry bones.”

When Jesus arrives, Martha and Mary both assert their faith that if Jesus had arrived in time their brother would not have died.  Jesus wants more than their faith in him as a healer, however.  His assertion that he is resurrection and life for those who believe in him is a challenge.  It was hard for them to see Jesus as one with life-giving power both for the present and the future.  When Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” it is a question for her, for John’s community, and for us.

When Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the grave, Lazarus rises to new life with the trappings of death still about him.  Yet, when Jesus rises from death, John tells us he leaves the grave clothes and death behind forever.  Death has no hold over him because in him the Spirit of God is abundant life.

Choir sings “Dem Bones” (chorus, 1 verse, chorus)

Just imagine what our world would look like if our achy, tired flesh and bones, our dead spirits, had a spiritual awakening.  The entire earth would be alive with clean, pure air and water.  Plants, animals and humans would live in harmony and respect.  Resources would be shared equally amongst all people, not just those who live in the Northern hemisphere.  We would witness to the truth that all people really are equal.  And we would actively take our part in the ongoing drama of resurrection hope.

As followers of Jesus Christ we experience the breath and spirit of The Holy.  Some of us may well be able to let go of that which is death producing and instead claim the possibility of new life.  Perhaps some of us will experience the life and breath and spirit of God in renewed ways.  May our bones live!  Amen.

Choir sings “Dem Bones”

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