Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the church’s time to call the people of God to a time of repentance, of prayer, and a time of fasting or sacrifice. We begin a 40 day odyssey toward the Christian Passover. Almost every year I begin this journey toward Easter by reading again Ezekiel 37.1-14. It is the story of The Valley of Dry Bones. For refresher purposes the passage is found below.
The Valley of Dry Bones
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’
Now why do I begin with this prophetic story? To be completely honest, I am not really sure. I know that this story speaks to me in a very deep and profound way and yet I cannot fully express why. I think I am moved by the imagery of dry, desolate and lifeless bones being restored and renewed for new life and new activity. The question is why does it speak to me that way and why is that so important to me as I begin Lent each year?
If I were to explore fully why this story touches the depths of my spirituality I would suggest that it grabs hold of my own fear and shame, my own insecurity and uncertainty. It awakens an awareness in me of my feelings of how very spiritually maladroit I feel at times. Given my very extroverted personality people often find it hard to comprehend that at times I feel diffident. Perhaps one is a cover for another – I’m not sure. Whatever the case, I confess that there are times in my discernment process that I feel like I cannot measure up. So when Lent arrives I really feel like I have a free pass to get real honest about my journey and work to expose the weaknesses in my game and practice harder to live what I think God is calling me to live. In the story of the Valley of Dry Bones I find hope that the bleached dry hardened insecurities of my being are not supplanted by the Divine. What God has placed and nurtured in me and in you – in all of us is the ‘breath of life.’ Sometimes we forget that. I have asked the question of God about these ‘dry bones’ of my spirit; “can these bones live?” Lent is a great time to delve into those questions.
In the dry, calcified corners of our spirituality comes the word of the LORD. That word is a reminder that while I may be but dust, there are a host of muscles and sinews placed on those bones. God has given us grace, gifts and talents that we become more than dust. We become lovers, healers, forgivers, embracers, and friends. The breath of God’s love takes that which seems dead and breathes new life. God takes that which is mortal and scattered at the bottom of the valley of our existence and creates new life, new opportunity, and new possibilities.
Is there a better time to self reflect than Lent? I don’t think so. I think that at some point or another we all feel like the Valley of Dry Bones. We all feel ‘played out.’ We all from time to time wonder if we are good enough, smart enough, strong enough, and brave enough. We all feel like we could use some renewal. In our pain, in our grief and in our own weak moment we have all felt that ‘hope is lost.’
Lent is our reminder that hope is not lost. We can ask God to breathe life into the dry bones of our pilgrimage. God will open the dark pit and shed light on our dreams and our longings. God loves us entirely and encourages us to take hold of the promise that we are beloved, we are gifted, and we do participate in the building of the City of God.
As I said, I am not sure why it speaks so loudly to me. I am just glad that it speaks!
Tonight we will come together to remind ourselves that we need to take time to pray, to reflect and discern our place in God’s creation. At 7:30 PM we will take the sign of the cross on our foreheads, made with dust as a reminder of our mortality. I pray that we might take that image on our heads and journey into the world knowing that while we may not be perfect, while we may be insecure, while we may not always measure up, we are marked as God’s and God loves us entirely. I pray that we will go into the world and proclaim that God is Love; that Love breathes life, and that life is a gift that comes with the responsibility of Loving in return.