Christmas meditation: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Ezekiel 37 (New International Version)
The Valley of Dry Bones
1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath [a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ “
Much like Christ-followers in the United States today, Ezekiel was living in hard times. He had the impossible task of prophesying God’s commandments of love and faithfulness to an exiled people far from home, a people caught up in the hateful ways of their leaders, leaders who either disregarded God entirely or committed unspeakable acts in His name. Like many of the prophets, Ezekiel was charged with bringing unpopular news to a people who had, like us, replaced the true G-d with the false gods of their own desires for autonomy, revenge, and easy living.
Modern American Christians who haven’t bought into the false rhetoric from the radical right, who still hope to see God’s community-restoring justice and peace realized, are in much the same position. Although we’ve made some steps forward this year, many of us, especially those close to the LGBTQ community, are facing this Christmas with a sense of having been cast adrift. We know we’re on the side of love; we know that overall we’re moving forward; we know it’s better than it used to be – but still, this knowledge isn’t enough to overcome our sense of loss.
Anne Lamott says that we’re living in desert times, that there’s beauty in the desert as well as fear, that you can’t have one without the other. Her desert, to me, looks the same as Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones – they’re the same place we’re in these days. And it’s not a fun place. These bones, whatever you see in them – our hopes, our plans, our spirits – are parched. They’re as dead as dead can be. No hope for these suckers.
And yet God walks Ezekiel up to the valley’s edge. He makes him stare these dried-up bones, as terrifying and sorrow-inducing as they are, right in the face. And then God says, “Ezekiel, you’re going to have to trust me on this one: I want these bones to live again. But you’re gonna have to be the one to do it. I’m right behind you – but you have to face up to this. Tell these bones to rise up and live.”
Ezekiel does it. He’s probably thinking, “this shit is crazy,” but he does it anyway, and God backs him up, and almost instantaneously there’s an army standing before him – his people’s hopes and dreams resurrected, ready to lead them back to where they were meant to be. Where only moments ago everything was dead and barren, now as far as Ezekiel can see there is promise of renewal.
To those of us who are entering this Christmas season and this new year with trepidation, feeling disheartened, as if our dreams have dried up and shriveled, God says, I will renew you. This is my promise to you; this is what Christmas means. This is why I came to walk among you: to make good on my promise of regeneration. What you think is dead and gone, I see as alive and strong. My power is with you, and when it comes time for you to say the words I give you, I’ll be right behind you. And I’ll make it happen.