Dry Bones: Obloquy and Ignominy
Sometimes our foes don't just want to defeat us, they want to make us know and feel the defeat that they inflict...and then they want us to remember it. Beyond erasing an opponent, how about arranging things so that they can never, ever forget the defeat they experienced at your hands?
That is the valley of dry bones.
This is more than a vision of new life and resuscitation given the prophet for the benefit of the people yearning for restoration to God's favor. This is more than a promise of new life.
This is a reversal of defeat. This is a restoration of honor, of hope.
In ancient times, one of the ways an invading power could force people to remember defeat at their hands in battle was to refuse them the right to bury their dead. After the corruption would fade, there would still be the bones of your people on and eventually in the ground. Imagine that, attempting to work the land of your ancestors, when every time your put the plow into the earth your ancestor's bones would be dragged up into the light. Nothing would ever feel clean again. Daily work would be a horror. You would be reminded of the defeat, the grief, the loss, the ignominy and the obloquy (the insult and the shaming) by any action you took to work on recovery.
This depiction of dry bones is more than people being mostly dead. This cohort is long, long dead and gone...what hope could there be for the people, for the land, when all around us is ruin, corruption and death?
It takes God's will, spirit and in the end God's very breath to make it so. The prophet is commanded to prophesy to the bones, and with a rustling like dry autumn leaves brushing against each other they come together. The song of restoration continues, and there are sinews, muscles and flesh; but there is no life. Finally, the breath of God is summoned, riding on the wind. It enters the dead, and there it is: life, hope, honor, even the land itself are restored and renewed.
In the face of all of the doom that Ezekiel has been preaching, it is quite literally a breath of fresh air for us to hear these words. Better still to hear God's warding of Gog/Magog, that the tribes of the North will not be allowed to prevail again in this way against the people of God. Not only is this life restored, this is the promise of that renewed life being nurtured and protected.
In the Church today, we need to hear these words. So much hope has been eroded over the last decades of the previous century, so much ground has been lost in the proclamation of the Gospel. We need to hear about the Valley of the Dry Bones and the promise of new life that the prophets preaching to them illustrates. Granted, we have not been overcome by the howling hordes of invading armies, or suppressed by repressive regimes...our valley of dry bones has been the Church's increasing lack of relevance to the life of people in our culture today. If we take anything from today's reading, it should be this...an invitation to be like Ezekiel, willing to preach to dry bones with a faith and confidence that God will indeed bring new life to them. We just have to be willing to go out to those barren and bereft places with the Good News, to overcome shame and fear, to leave behind grief and worry...and to be confident in a God that continually brings new life to the dry bones of our lives.