A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
God says to Ezekiel, “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.” And that’s just what Ezekiel does. He talks to those dry and brittle bones. The valley full of them. As he talks he hears the rattling of the bones coming together, the sound of flesh coming upon them and skin stretching over them. He hears them come to life. Well almost come to life. They’re missing just one thing—breath, the breath of life.
Every time I read this passage or hear it read aloud, I go right back to the dry bone days in my own life—the times I’ve felt there’s no life, no hope left in me. Those times of utter despair when I can’t see or imagine a way out of the darkness I’m in. I think we all have dry bone times in our lives—times when the darkness threatens to swallow us up, times when we see no way out, times when we are as brittle as bones bleached white and dried in the sun. Times when only a powerful gust of wind can change things up for us.
That’s how it was for the people hearing Ezekiel’s words that day. Their lives were as brittle as bones bleached white in the hot desert sun. A people defeated, taken captive, uprooted, a people broken and in despair, a people sapped of life and faith. A people made weary from repeated reports of new indignities to those they left behind. I wonder how they hear Ezekiel’s words? Had they numbed their hearts? Or was there a place, a small place, where the hope Ezekiel promised took root and settled in?
Remember it doesn’t happen all at once. First Ezekiel prophesies to the bones and then he’s told to prophesy to the wind. First bones rattle, then sinews appear, then flesh, then skin but still not breath. Breath, life—it takes time to regain those. And yet there comes a time when those bones come together, take flesh and breath and stand on their feet.
We hear these words from Ezekiel in the context of our own individual lives. They give us hope. They give us strength. But Ezekiel was not talking to individuals. He was talking to the whole house of Israel. Just as that divine wind, that holy spirit, came not to Mary or Peter or James or Mary Magdalene on their own, but to the whole group of people huddled together in that upper room.
So I wonder, “How do we, the community of Live at Five, hear these words spoken to us as a people joined together in one skin?”
There was a time not so long ago when we might have said, “Dry bones, brittle bones—that’s us.” There was a time not so long ago when we were deep in grief. We’d lost the priest we loved—our founding priest—and we wondered if there was a place for us. Yet we kept going. First the sinews, then the flesh, then the skin appeared. People pitching in. People—us—doing the work of building community. People worshipping in community. All of us, our bones rattling together, listening for the Spirit of God drawing us into the future.
But remember Ezekiel’s work wasn’t done when he finished prophesying to those bones. He still had the wind to deal with. Those bones had not yet come to life. Those bones had not yet stood and claimed their place as a people of God. So Ezekiel prophesied to the wind and the breath of God came into those assembled bones and they stood on their feet. They stood on their feet. They were ready to move.
But still God was not done with Ezekiel or the exiled people of Israel. God had more in store for Ezekiel and for his people. God had a vision for the future. A vision of a temple rebuilt, a people restored, a new way of being and living with one another and with God. God gives that vision to Ezekiel and tells him to share it with his people.
We don’t know what happens next. We don’t know what happens after the people hear Ezekiel’s last vision. The book of the prophet Ezekiel ends with that vision of a temple rebuilt and a people restored to their homeland. But it’s just a vision. What we do know is what the prophet Joel knew so well—“Without a vision, the people perish.” Perhaps the converse is true as well—“With a vision, the people begin to thrive.”
Almost nine months ago, we came together as a community. We listened for the voice of the Spirit. We had visions, we dreamt dreams, we even began to prophesy. I looked back at those dreams and prophesies this week. Here are a few of the words and images that surfaced that day last September: meditative, mosaic, silent prayer, a slower pace, welcoming, emerging, family, bilingual music, taize music, outdoor mass, rainbow flag, bringing in those hurt by church, seeing ourselves as an integral and vital part of the whole St. Michael’s community, Mas Espanol por favor, beyond bi-lingual, color, simplicity, different, unique.
Like the people of the exile, our story is not done, our song is still unfinished. But the wind is blowing, the walls are breaking down. Who knows what the Spirit has in store for us as we move into the land that lies before us!