This past Sunday of Pentecost, one of the texts was the vision of the valley of dry bones brought to life in Ezekiel 37. Before the fall of the nation of Israel to Babylon — the nation conquered, Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed and Hebrew people led into captivity in Babylon — Ezekiel was called by God to be a prophet of judgment, declaring the nation would fall because of its sin. Then, “after the fall,” he was called to be a prophet of hope to a nation destroyed.
No wonder some thought he had a severe mental condition. His wild, almost hallucinatory visions didn’t help his reputation. But this vision of the valley of dry bones gave his nation hope, and perhaps us today as well.
The question God asked Ezekiel at the beginning of the vision is ours at times: “Can these bones live?” The bones of our lives, the bones of our families, our churches, the whole church, the nation? Who has not had a measure of despair this past year of pandemic and national chasms of division? The Bible says from beginning to end, “There is no life apart of the Spirit.”
I know no church that has not taken blows this year apart from one another. One person described Christians in churches now as anxious, angry and afraid. We need to be gentle with each other these days, and with ourselves. We have experienced a collective trauma.
The people of the nation of Israel were saying, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are clean cut off.” Who has not felt a few of those tremors this year?
Award winning Indian novelist Arunhati Roy has said of this year: “Historically, pandemics have forced people to break with the past and imagine the world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”
This is what the Spirit is saying to us: Look for the portal! Many are waiting for the old world to return. It will not, and our nostalgia for it can get in the way. The Spirit is pointing toward the portal.
“Many are waiting for the old world to return. It will not, and our nostalgia for it can get in the way.”
We may draw back from what lies ahead; the future appears daunting. But Wendell Berry’s words are like a prophet’s word of hope to me: “It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
Is it possible that our bones can live again, that our streams can sing?
Stephen Shoemaker serves as pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C. He served previously as pastor of Myers Park Baptist in Charlotte, N.C.; Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, Texas, and Crescent Hill Baptist in Louisville, Ky.
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