Apart from some of the more Pentecostal venues of the Church in our present age, the experience of receiving a vision is usually relegated to a sense of practice, or of dreaming and planning. A vision is something we generate (ref. the "vision statement" of a congregation or organization), usually through committee work. At a higher level, a vision can also be for us a forecasting into the future, a desired state that we might-if we commit to the work being enumerated at hand-achieve..."I have a dream." Rarely do we hear tell of our leaders, guides and teachers telling of a vision received like the one Ezekiel is relating to us this morning. This is something else.
Ezekiel is living his life, along with his kinsfolk and the rest of the remnant of Israel and Judah, in exile. The stark reality of that? His opening statement: time is defined now by Babylon. It's left to the redactor of the text to include, if you will, a more Biblical reference so that we can keep when this happened in context. Into that moment, beside the Chebar River, something happens to Ezekiel; something wondrous and "awe-full."
Visions are powerful things. Although often described by the recipient as something they "see," you can understand that there is a lot more going on in the perception of the vision that just a visual spectacle. Receiving a vision is like having reality both illumined and redefined in a moment. One second, you are just living your life; in the next, you are become part of something that is beyond every point of reference you knew before. For Ezekiel, this vision is the beginning of a revelation of apocalyptic proportion. God is not just revealing God's will or intent for the people. God is revealing God to them. From the get-go, this is an experience we are all now going to share of seeing, and knowing, that God's holiness is drawing near. We perceive from the start that this is all MUCH bigger than we are, and that human points of reference are arbitrary at best. We are now on God's time, and every fiber of our being is now bound up in God's unfolding, opening, revealing to us just what is.
I have known a few true visionaries in my time. These are not the folks who invent the next electric light, or the ones who innovate the "next big thing." The downside to being a visionary in the first sense is that is often feels more like an affliction than a blessing. Here you are, living your life and then God shows up. You are shown something beyond what human senses can normally discern. You are given experiences that go beyond what most polite people consider appropriate. You are, sometimes, directed to offer those visions up to others in your community. Sometimes you are given support through the Holy Spirit in a person who has the spiritual gift of interpretation (but not always).
And to some, you are just crazy.
But visions are real. They happen. As Peter noted earlier, we don't just follow cleverly devised myths. But for us to be able to embrace that God from time to time chooses to reveal God-self to us in visions means practicing a faith that is always open and questing for hope, meaning and inspiration. It means being ready to either receive the experiences that Ezekiel had (and then find the strength to bear witness to them), or to support and listen with discernment to the visionaries in our midst. If we do not, then we lose out on participating in one of God's most direct manners of communicating directly with the Church, and with us as individuals formed for the purpose of making God known in the world.