The Fifth Sunday in Lent (April 10, 2011)

Lessons:Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 Romans 8:6-11 St. John 11:1-45

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

37:1 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. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 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.”

7 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. 8 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. 9 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.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 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.’ 12 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. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 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.’ ”

Ezekiel 37:1-14, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Dem Bones

“Dry Bones” is an old African American spiritual that has become a part of our American religious landscape. When we think if it, we think of servants out working in the fields in the deep south a hundred and fifty years ago or more: sun-beaten, weathered, hot and sweaty, but joined together in song, and strengthened by their common faith. Of course, you and I know where that old spiritual comes from: it’s the passage that is appointed as this week’s first lesson, from the prophet Ezekiel.

This story comes to us from about 2,500 years ago or so. In those days, God’s people were in desperate straights. Jerusalem and its temple had been destroyed. God’s people had been taken captive, and carried off to live in a foreign land (Babylon). Everything beloved and familiar to them had been taken away. It was a desperate time; a time when they wondered if God had forsaken them forever.

Of all the hopes and dreams that Israel carried with them into exile, the greatest was that their nation would  one day be reestablished. They hoped to return to Jerusalem. They hoped to rebuild the Temple. They hoped to command the respect of their neighbors once again. Even more importantly, they hoped that God would be their strength and shield again. They hoped that God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled: descendants as numerous as the stars, and a land to call their own. Yet as the days dragged on after the conquest of their nation, and the destruction of the holy city, and the murder of their royal family, the hopes of that nation were dashed.

So God sent the prophet Ezekiel. In the midst of their despair, he brought them a word of new life. When it seemed that all was lost, there was Ezekiel, singing from the depths of his heart:

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around; dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around; Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around; now hear the word of the Lord.

One day, while God’s people were in exile, Ezekiel had a powerful vision. His vision was one of hope to a beaten and discouraged nation; a vision of new life, from a God who can work miracles in even the most desperate of situations. With these words, he proclaimed to them that the God who could breathe life into a valley of bones could breathe life into a nation that had all but dried up and withered away. Ezekiel’s message was a strong word of hope, from a loving God to a desperate people.

It is a word of hope for us today, as well. Our God is a God who works miracles, even in the most unlikely of situations. Israel was delivered from the hands of the Babylonians, as they had been from the hand of the Egyptians so many years earlier. Lazarus was delivered from death. Jesus was delivered from the tomb. God works the surprising miracle of new life in situations that seem entirely impossible. And God offers that miracle of new life to us today.

Maybe some of us have a family member who has trouble believing. Maybe some of us have a child or a friend who can’t seem to get their life on track. Maybe some of us work in a place that is hostile to the Gospel, and intimidating to any witness. Maybe some of us are concerned about the future of our congregation, or our denomination. Maybe some of us wrestle with poor health or broken relationships. Maybe some of us are frightened by war, or poverty, or hunger, or environmental concerns. The valley of dry bones is not just a story from the ancient history of our ancestors in faith. It is not just a parable that speaks to the Babylonian exile of Israel in the 6th Century b.c. It is an image that addresses our present reality, and proclaims the power of our loving God.

To whatever situation we face today, God offers a word of new life. No matter how impossible it may seem – no matter how hopeless it may feel, our lessons remind us that our God is a God of power and might. A God who can restore a devastated people. A God who can raise one from the dead. A God who can and will move mightily in our lives as well.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What hopes were central to the people of ancient Israel?
  2. In what ways did their exile in Babylon dash those hopes?
  3. What alternative vision did Ezekiel have for their future?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have my hopes been dashed, making my life feel like a valley of dry bones?
  2. How has God touched me in those times, allowing me to remain hopeful?
  3. What word of hope might I bring to someone I love?