Preacher’s Corner by Donna Hopkins Britt

We can be very attached to places, like a home, or town, or house of worship … these places have significance beyond the cost of the bricks or the street signs.  As I understand it, the prophet Ezekiel is writing to Israelites who had been captured and taken from the place they believed God gave them as a home to share.  It felt as if their connection with God was ripped in two.  Without God and the temple at Jerusalem, spiritually, they died.

“Can these bones live?”  This is God’s question to Ezekiel as he envisions a valley full of dry bones stretching out before him.  Ezekiel seems unsure, so the Lord says, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on 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” (Ezek. 37:4-6).

The Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History is full of bones.  In an exhibit about human history, you can watch a series of videos about Shanidar Cave in Iraq, where the skeletons of nine Neanderthals were discovered.  One skeleton gives clues of old age, so that anthropologists discern that this person was well cared for by the rest of the group.  Scientists use clues to think backwards and put skin back on bones, like they did in these videos, or with the Pterodactyl in the dinosaur exhibit.

Dry bones also have a message for us about the future.  Together, God and Ezekiel use the power of words to re-construct life.  It’s like a video in reverse, but it’s actually moving forward: “Suddenly there was a … rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” Ezekiel looked, and then ligaments and muscles were attached and then all these sets of bone and muscle were enveloped by blankets of skin.  It was an amazing sight, but incomplete, because “…there was no breath in them.”

Have you ever felt like you were a body walking around with no breath to give you life?  Christians have been in the season of Lent for well over a month now.  Perhaps our practices have led not to a deeper experience with God but a sense that we are so far from where we want to be.  Can these bones live?

If this were the end of the story, we would feel hopeless indeed.  But God is not finished and tells Ezekiel to “Prophesy … and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” As Ezekiel obeyed God, “the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude” (vv 9-10).

Ezekiel and God work together again, and through the power of the word, the wind, the breath—in Hebrew, it’s the same word, “ha ruach”—the divine wind breathes life back into the inanimate bodies, and they live.

We need the power of these words.  When our son was younger he was climbing a tree and fell out, flat on his stomach and it knocked the wind—the breath—out of him.  Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you?  Either physically or emotionally?  Most of us have at one time or another, and we feel stuck and we feel lifeless and we feel like things will not change for the better, but Ezekiel tells us that’s not true.  Life and breath will return.  There is hope.

Wait for the Lord and hope in the Lord (Psalm 130).  Can these bones live?  Yes, they can.

Donna Hopkins Britt is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Roanoke’s Downtown West:  608 Campbell Avenue, SW; web site, calvaryroanoke.org.

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