It is so that in these last days I have meandered between the various readings assigned for the Festival of Pentecost this time around.
I pondered the nearness of the Spirit in Romans, (Romans 8:22-27), how One could be so close and know each one of us so well so as to be able to capture our deepest yearnings and convey them to the very heart of God. Similarly, I wondered at the gift of the Advocate promised by Jesus in John’s Gospel… (John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15)
I stood in a kind of amazement at ‘all those gathered together in one place’ in Acts. (Acts 2:1-21) Something many of us have not experienced in what now seems to be a very long time and I wondered at what gift that will be again in the hopefully not too distant future.
I even found myself captured by a single verse in Psalm 104 where in verse 30 the Psalmist promises: ‘When you send forth your spirit, (your breath), they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.’ (Psalm 104:24-34, 35b)
But it was when I opened up to Ezekiel’s ancient vision that the tears came.
Because I expect we know what dry bones feel like by now.
Those grown brittle by loneliness.
By the not knowing what is next and certainly not what is expected of us now.
These bones which are too much splintered by grief, by faltering faith, perhaps, by coming to an ever deeper understanding of all that is broken between us that maybe we have never fully recognized before, by our own inability to see how we are called to step out next in the promise we have been given.
Oh I, and I expect you, too, know ‘dry bones’ in whole new probably mostly unwelcome ways.
And yes, I do expect that many among us do find ourselves yearning only for what we remember for that would be so much more than what we have found ourselves having to settle for these last many months.
And wouldn’t it be something if with only a breath, it could all return to what we cannot help but remember?
Back to when, at least in the place I call home, a face mask was almost unheard of.
To before when we hugged freely and without a moment’s hesitation.
To when lunch with a friend, a Friday night outing to enjoy local theater, or a trip to the museum was practically an every day thing.
To a time when a trip to the grocery store, to the post office, or for a simple medical check up didn’t have us thinking twice.
To those years when we planned weddings with hope and joyful anticipation, not worrying about people getting too close or there being too many and yes, to those times of even then unspeakable loss when we didn’t have to lean in close to a screen to be a part of a loved one’s funeral or to gather with too few dear ones to commend a precious one into God’s eternal care.
Indeed, to when we could be ‘all together in one place’ on a Sunday morning, reaching across the pew to greet a friend with open arms, singing with joyful gusto our favorite hymns, receiving the bread and the wine without much thinking about how we did it, sitting close at coffee hour afterwards.
These days will come again, I expect, and already are on their way.
Although even when we do return, we do not return the same as we were.
For we know now what dry bones are in a way we maybe never did before. At least I know this is so for me.
And I cannot help but wonder how experiencing ‘dry bones’ already shapes how we will live once ‘the sinews are put upon us once more and we are covered with skin and breathing and living again.’ (Ezekiel 37:6)
Will we always remember this time:
- when we could not hug frequently and freely,
- when we could not see the expressions on the faces of friends and strangers,
- when we lived in terror that a loved one would wind up in the hospital and we would not be able to be with them,
- when too many lived out the unspeakable heartbreak of not being able to be there for a beloved one’s last breath?
Will we forget the life robbing chasms this last seemingly endless time has brought to light:
- the discrepancies between those who could stay home and those whose work put them in harm’s way day after day, month after month,
- between children who had all that they needed to learn at home and those who fell ever more quickly behind,
- between those (too much delineated by race and of course, economic class) whose lack of access to health care so many take for granted left them so much more vulnerable to this raging pandemic?
For you and me, together, we are or have been in some ways all those dry bones and together we will find ourselves moving forward knowing what that was, even as life embraces us once more.
It is into all of this that Ezekiel offers a vision now of a multitude of disparate and disconnected dry bones now standing on their feet once more. And I wonder if those ‘bones’ were all the more changed for the better, ‘knowing’ what they could not have known before about all that can break us down and about the unparalleled centrality of God doing what God does next.
I do not yet know what that will be, what all of this will mean for our life together or even for how I will engage it, how we will engage it in the days and months and years to come.
I do know today that when I read the promise of all that life coming to a place of death, tears spring to my eyes.
And this is so as well. When I encounter Ezekiel’s vision now I am powerfully reminded today all the new life we have ever know and ever will know, it has and always will be at God’s hand. The very breath of God will be the source of whatever good lies before us now.
Indeed, the first promise, dear ones, this Pentecost, is that for all that we have been through and through all that is yet to come, God was not, God is not done yet. And God’s astounding work is always to bring hope where despair seemed to have the last say and life again where the dry bones were even long abandoned.
So if you will, sit still with Ezekiel 37 for a while.
Let this astounding image capture you.
Sense the wondrous creaking as those very bones come together in you, the wondrous weight as sinews are laid upon you and skin covers you once more and the enlivening of your being as the very breath of God becomes your own.
For God is not done yet.
- What do you know of ‘dry bones’ that perhaps you did not eighteen months ago? Do you also find these familiar verses from Ezekiel also speaking to you in new and powerful ways? What is that like for you?
- I expect that for the rest of our lives this time of pandemic will be a point of reference for us: a time which shaped us in both welcome and unwelcome ways. What do you want to always remember about ‘dry bones’ from these last many months? How might that remembering shape you in ways of hope and promise?
- Ezekiel’s vision was one first offered to a people in exile. In the verses just before those which lay out this astonishing promise in such a vivid way, he speaks of towns inhabited once more, of waste places being rebuilt, of gardens planted in abundance once more. The vision which follows is a powerful reminder of how desperate the people must have been, that they must have felt as though there was no hope before there was, again, every reason for hope. I wonder now where and how we are called to return and replant and rebuild. I wonder how we will experience the breath of God bringing life in and through these tangible things we can perhaps even now begin to imagine once more. What might that look like for you where you are?
- Over a year ago at the beginning of the shutdown, I also wrote on Ezekiel 37. You might find it interesting to compare that reflection about this journey relative to today: Brevig Mission, Alaska, and the 1918 Flu: Can These Bones Live? I cannot help but believe that we have all been changed by all of this. At the same time, God’s Promise remains the same and what gift that is!