2023 Lenten Preaching Series 5: Ecological Education
We are now at the fifth week of Lent …
- How successful have you been in your Lenten sacrifices?
- Have you made your Easter confession yet?
- Have you been more prayerful, and generous in giving alms?
- Have you seen any progress in your spiritual growth?
As Lent rapidly departs us, this weekend we are reminded that there is still time … to prepare our hearts and minds and very selves for the feast of Easter … with Jesus, hope is not lost, hope is never lost!
The Old Testament reading today from Ezekiel 37 is a story that helps focus our attention on the mystery and majesty of YHWH who knows no death that cannot be infused with life. This day and these readings are reminders to celebrate that fact that the church is in the business of offering life amid what sometimes seems to be a death-dealing culture.
And that culture, both that of Ezekiel's 6th-century world and our own, has never better been characterized than in this astonishing and well-known passage. For we, like they, are dry bones, once marrow-filled skeletons, created by God, now picked clean by a culture intent on death for many rather than life for all.
The text is both historical and allegorical at the same time. It is assumed that Ezekiel went into a Babylonian exile with the first wave of deportees in 597 BCE, a group that was added to when Nebuchadnezzar ten years later destroyed what remained of Jerusalem in a furious rage, capturing and blinding the king, Zedekiah, and herding the last leaders of a shattered Judah eastward to the huge Babylonian capital.
So, when Ezekiel speaks of dry bones in a valley, he means precisely that — dead soldiers after a slaughter, empty lives after a crashing defeat. When YHWH drops him into this silent and terrifying valley of bones, obviously dead and gone, and asks him, "Can these bones live?" the certain answer must be: "Not a chance!"
Yet, Ezekiel does not answer in that way. He says instead, O YHWH God, you know, a delightfully ambiguous response that could mean God, it is your call, not mine.
God makes no appraisal of Ezekiel's reply, but instead in typical divine fashion calls the prophet to his work. Prophesy to the bones, and say to them, 'Thus says YHWH!'
The prophet is then admonished to proclaim an anatomy lesson to the bones, wherein YHWH will provide breath and sinews and flesh and skin such that the bones will leap to life again, until the valley is filled with a standing host, a vast multitude of living beings.
In short, Israel's exile to Babylon is far from the last work of YHWH; the dry bones of defeat and humiliation will become the heal