DEM BONES, DEM BONES
April 6, 2014 by Ken Dale
It?s almost not fair when I think about it ? to be two weeks away from Easter and have these passages from Ezekiel 37 and John 11 before us in worship.? Dry bones coming to life and Lazarus being called out of his tomb.? Ezekiel lived through the final and fateful fall of Jerusalem in 587 and 10 years prior to that he and others had been marched off from Judah to exile in Babylon.? The temple was in ruins.? The people had lost everything and were desperate.? It was the funeral of their nation and their social life, the funeral of their faith.? No doubt their question was ?Where is God??? They have lost heart, they are suffering death of the spirit.? And Ezekiel brings them this powerful vision.? The temptation of course is to jump to the good part when God breathes life into dem dry bones.? But we would do well to pause and think about the image of dem bones.? This is still Lent and it could be valuable to think about what dry bones ? dry times ? are represented in our own spiritual lives.? Think of those periods of time when doubts, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, depression are part of our daily living.? What can we learn from them?? When the path is painful or difficult what can those dry bones teach us?? Might they reveal things we lack in our spiritual life ? the discipline of prayer, reflection, scripture – being intentional about our relationship with God?? If we heard God ask us the question ?Can these bones live?? ? what would our answer be?? Would we humbly answer as did Ezekiel ? ?O Lord God you know.?
The story of Lazarus too would carry that question ?Where is God???? Where was Jesus when we needed him?? Lazarus needed him days before he finally showed up.? Though very early in the story Jesus does say that Lazarus? illness is for the glory of God.? But when Jesus does arrive it appears to be too late ? Lazarus is dead, wrapped and in the tomb.? Things are so low that even Jesus weeps at the loss of his friend.? But as we know the stone is removed and Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb and he comes.? What appeared to be the end was by faith in God?s presence not the end.? In both stories we are called to look for love in the Great Liberator.
Some years ago I read of a play by Eugene O?Neill entitled ?Lazarus Laughed? which picks up about where the story in John?s gospel ends.? Granted there is no gospel report other than to say the later Lazarus died a natural death again.? ONeill?s play gives insight into what happened after Lazarus was raised from the dead.? In the play a crowd has gathered at Lazarus? house in Bethany to hear the remarkable story.? The person telling the story said as Lazarus emerged from the tomb he began to laugh softly like a man in love with God.? In serene acceptance of all he saw around him, Lazarus utters his first word, ?Yes.?? Then all the expected questions are asked ? what was it like to die? what did you see? What did you experience?? And again, Lazarus began to laugh the laughter of pure joy.? Then he says, ?There is only life.? There is only laughter, the laughter of God.? It soars to the heights; it resounds to the depths.? There is no death, really.? It is not what it looks like from this side.? Death is not an abyss or entrance into nothingness or chaos or punishment.? Death is a portal, a passageway into deeper and brighter life, eternal change, everlasting growth.? That is what lies out ahead of us in death.? We were born of the laughter of God and we move toward the laughter of God.? There is only life.?
As a hospice chaplain and pastor I have had numerous conversations over the years with people about dying, death, and what, if anything, happens after death.? The bottom line is that we do not know.? We have our hopes and faith interpretations that tell us much and yes there are all kinds of books and some of them may even be good.? But we need to grasp the faith that is presented in these two stories.? Even in the valley of dem dry bones there is God.? There is God who breathes life even into dem dry bones.? Ezekiel is willing to trust the word of God.? In the middle of his own dry, dusty, lifeless experience in exile, he is willing to put his faith in the God who says to the bones, ?I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.?
So again, think of those periods of time when doubts, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, depression are part of daily living.? What can we learn from them?? When the path is painful or difficult what can those dry bones teach us?? They are but opportunities for faith.? By faith we know that God is with us.
To find new life in the bone yards of our world, we must do the same: pour forth words to the Spirit of God and call on God to act. God alone meets hope with new life. ?God alone sends the breath and work into the dryness of our landscapes.? We do have a part to play in it all ? it doesn?t just happen.? It?s like a boy who wants to sail.? He gets into a boat, shoves off into the water and raises the sail.? But nothing happens.? The boy can?t fill his own sails and make the wind blow.? The work of faith is do our part ? get into the boat, get into the water, and raise the sails ? whatever that looks like in our situations of valleys of dry bones, or death.? But only God brings the wind.? And God does bring the wind ? God does breathe the breath of life.
That faith is not just a hope for the end of our earthly life ? it is a faith for each and every day and a faith that allows us to fall in love with life.? Yes, life at times is dem dry bones ? but there is also the amazing grace of God that can bring life to those bones so that we learn from them and come to new life.? Like Lazarus there are times when we are bound but faith calls us into a community where others are called to unbind and set free.? And again ? we are set free to fall in love with life.? I read of a bumper sticker that reads If you are walking on thin ice, you might as well dance.? The conclusion drawn by one preacher was our mortality says that we are all walking on thin ice.? We can either tiptoe across life?s ice and wonder when we are going to fall in, or dance as long as we are on top of the ice.? We must dance as a witness to our faith.? And if we hear some noises that at first startle us, don?t assume it?s the ice breaking.? It could be the laughter of God.? (with thanks to William Kincade).