Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Bringing Dry Bones to Life”
Rev. Art Ritter
March 29, 2020
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 around 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.
Each winter Laura and I take our Florida vacation at the Disney Vacation Club resort near Vero Beach. The resort is beautiful and relaxing and we find our favorite activity to be the walks along the endless sandy beach. The theme of the resort is the loggerhead turtle, a symbol in the decoration and promotion of Disney Vero Beach. All around the resort are signs reminding guests not to disturb and sea turtles or sea turtle nest that they might encounter. The resort itself tempers its artificial lighting so that very little, if any light from the buildings or pool makes it way down to the beach. As much is done as possible to make certain the loggerhead turtle enjoys its natural habitat.
In her book Learning to Walk in Darkness, author and priest Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of spending three days at Barrier Island, near Melbourne Florida, at a time when the loggerhead turtles were laying their eggs. One evening, when the tide was out, she watched a huge female turtle heave herself up on the beach to dig her nest and empty her eggs into it. Afraid of disturbing the event, Taylor quickly and quietly walked away. The next morning she returned to the beach to see if she could find the spot where the eggs were hidden. What she found instead were sea turtle tracks heading in the wrong direction. Instead of moving back into the sea, the loggerhead turtle had wandered into the dunes, the hot dry sandy dunes. Taylor eventually found the turtle a little ways inland, exhausted, all but baked in the sun, head and flippers covered with sand. She poured the water from her water bottle over the creature and then left to notify the beach ranger.
The ranger soon arrived in a Jeep to rescue the turtle. He flipped the loggerhead on her back, wrapped two chains around her front legs, and then hooked the chain to the trailer hitch. Taylor watched horrified as the ranger then took off in the Jeep. The turtle’s body was yanked forward with such thrust that her mouth filled with sand. Her neck was bent so far back Taylor feared it might break. The ranger continued over the dunes and down onto the beach. There he unhooked the turtle at the edge of the water and turned it right side up. The loggerhead laid motionless in the surf, water lapping at its body, washing the dry sand away. As another wave broke over, the turtle lifted her head and moved her back legs slowly. Soon other waves crashed over her and brought her slowly back to life. Finally one of the waves completely overcame the turtle, making her light enough to find a foothold and push off the beach, returning safely to the ocean.
Taylor writes that watching the turtle swim away and remembering the horrible scene of the turtle being dragged through the dunes, she learned something. It is sometimes hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down.”
I think we are in that place of the turtle ourselves. The COVID 19 pandemic has left us at a place where we are stranded and isolated from our habitats of certainty and routine. It may feel as if we are being dragged through times and places not of our own choosing. We may feel that we have been abandoned, without hope or any meaning.
The Scripture lesson for this Fifth Sunday in the season of Lent is the story of the vision of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel, a Israelite priest and prophet, was living in exile in Babylon. In exile, he and his people felt cut off from God, lifeless and without any hope. Perhaps they were like that sea turtle on the dunes. Ezekiel’s vision describes them as a bunch of empty, dry skeletons.
In his vision, Ezekiel is taken by God to a valley of dry bones. He is asked by God if such things can live. It is easy to answer no. But God answers that through breath, through spirit, these dry bones can be brought back to life. This is no ordinary breath. This is the breath of God, a Holy Spirit. As that spirit is given to the bones, Ezekiel sees them coming together, come to life, and rise from the sand of the valley. The dry skeletons take on tendons, and muscle, and flesh.
God can bring life into places where there appears to be only death. Darkness may surround us, fill us, chase us. But God is in the business of restoring hope by raising the dead to life, by breathing new life into people, by finding possibilities in times that seem to have reached their conclusion.
Can these bones live? These words, this vision, are a message of hope. There is evil and darkness and uncertainty around us. But even in these times God has power. Compassion. New beginnings. Restoration. We may die many deaths but God has the power to breath new life back into us and to restore us again and again.
Again, in another book God in Pain, Barbara Brown Taylor writes this, “if our turns have not yet come, they will- our own turns to submit ourselves to the unknown, to step into the darkness without understanding what it is all about. We may not go bravely or wisely or compassionately, some of us may have to crawl, and others of us to be carried, but that we can go at all has everything to do with the cross, the cross dares us to believe that God is at the bottom of everything, especially the things we cannot understand, with strong arms waiting to catch us when all our nets break, with loving arms to cradle us.
We don’t hold in our hands total control. But what we do hold is hope, hope that in us and through us God will speak to the world. We don’t know when and how God’s spirit will move us or move among us. But we can trust that God’s spirit is powerful enough to mend crushed hope, renew withered faith, and to rebuild our brokenness. Hope abound in the people of God.