God of endings and new beginnings, we come to worship and to praise. We come to abandon our pretenses and offer up our hope and dreams, that you may breathe new life into them. Shake us from our slumber and awaken us to our own resurrection. Open our eyes to the new day dawning in our hearts. Let us rejoice and be glad, for life has triumphed over death! Alleluia! Amen.
~Penelope J. Stokes, from Before the Amen
In Ezekiel 37: 1-14, God brings Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones and asserts that the result of the new life breathed into the bones will be that “they will know that I am the Lord.” God wants people to understand God’s power. Can God breathe new life into these bones? Ezekiel is careful in answering, in verse 3, “Only you know that, God.” Even Ezekiel is not entirely sure; but he trusts God.
Most Christians don’t really trust God’s power to raise the dead, heal the world, or fix broken things. We may tacitly believe in God’s power to destroy. But resurrection is a different matter. We believe in human ingenuity and will. If we work hard enough, things may improve. But for God to just spontaneously bring new life from death in our situations–we can’t see it.
Long before the vision of Ezekiel, God spoke a Word of creative power, and things that were not came to be. Disorganized darkness and chaos became ordered, organized and productive.
Later, when the dry bones lay scattered in the valley of death, God generously gave a human—Ezekiel– the Word to profess new life into being:
“Prophecy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”
To Ezekiel’s surprise, he became a co-creator with God!
Later, Jesus Christ was given this same power. His friend Lazarus was allowed to die and was entombed. Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, rise up!”, and Lazarus obeyed, walking out from death to life.
In all these stories, God is trying to teach people that “I am the Lord. I have a power that can be trusted. If you let me show you what I’m capable of, you will see miracles of new life.”
Of course, I’m talking about you and me and the Church here. God may not will our churches to die, but God does allow it, in order that, in resurrection, “we will know the Lord.”
Sometimes I feel this work is my task: to listen for heartbeats in the valley of dry bones. To look for signs that someone is breathing under that pile of skeletons. It isn’t survivors I’m looking for. Christianity is not about survival, but about resurrection. In our time, in our midst, some old forms of church are being transformed from dead things to living ones.
Wouldn’t you love to be a part of that story?