The prophet Ezekiel had a vision in which God promised to bring to life what had been piles of dry bones. That's amazing; but perhaps the message is even more amazing than it first appears.
as interpreted by Deborah
The prophet Ezekiel said:
In a vision I saw myself in the middle of a valley. It was full of bones.
Everywhere I walked were bones, piles upon piles of bones. And they were very dry.
God spoke to me and said, “Do you think, O mortal, that these can come to life?” And I said, “God, only You know.”
Then God spoke to me and said, “Call to these bones, tell them: ‘O dry bones, listen to what God says! God says: I will give you breath, and you shall come alive. ‘I will give you muscles and tissue and skin and give you breath, and you shall come alive; and you will realize that I am God.’”
So I said what God had told me to say and, as I spoke, there was a terrible rattling — as the bones joined back together — connecting bone to bone.
And as I watched, muscles formed along the bones, then tissue, and finally skin covered them. But there was no life in them.
Then he said to me, “Call to the Spirit, call, O mortal, and say: ‘God says: Gather together all your power, O Spirit, and breathe upon these who were murdered, so they will live.”
I said what God had told me to say and the Spirit entered them, and they came alive and stood up. It was a vast multitude.
In Ezekiel’s vision a desolate valley of dry bones becomes a community of living souls. God commands it, the prophet speaks the words, and the dead are restored to life.
If only it were so.
On Memorial Day we remember “the exceeding great army” (as the King James translation gives it) who have died in military service. Sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters; family and friends who have passed into the valley of death.
If only God would command it, surely they could be restored to us — whole and healthy and full of life. How joyful we would be. A vast multitude, standing tall and proud: warm and full of life, able to hear and speak, to touch and be touched.
If only it were so.
How thrilled Ezekiel’s first hearers must have been! What a magnificent promise: the dead restored to life. Even we, these many years later, find our spirits buoyed by these words. It is a glorious hope cherished by all who mourn.
Bring back those who are no longer with us. Give us back the ones who went away and never returned. Let us see again those faces that live only in our memories. Oh, if only it were so!
But then the prophet reveals the rest of what was said.
Then God spoke to me and said, “You see, mortal, these bones are all of my people. They say, ‘We are lost, abandoned, without hope.’ So you must speak up and tell them, ‘God says: I am going to pull you up out of the grave and give you new life, My beloved people; and I will bring you back home.’”
~ Ezekiel 37:11-12
It turns out that God was speaking metaphorically. Those who would be restored weren’t really our beloved dead, just people who had lost the will to live.
That’s not what we wanted. We are disappointed by the second half of Ezekiel’s vision. We had such great expectations: he had us all pumped up, ready and waiting for a grand miracle — a vast multitude resurrected from the dead. Instead he’s talking about words of encouragement.
Talk about a let down. That’s no big deal. Where’s the 18-karat proof that God is who God says?
We’re looking for a miracle and instead we learn that God is concerned with people who are depressed, devoid of hope, down-and-out.
Is that all?
The Beloved sends Ezekiel to speak to those who have fallen — and bids them to arise. In the midst of trials and tribulations, when evils abound and it seems as if all is lost, God calls to them. They have not been forgotten, they have not been abandoned: they are loved and cared for. In the midst of all the troubles in the world, God’s concern is for us.
We are loved and cared for. No matter who we are, no matter what we have done or left undone, no matter how far we have fallen, there is no cause for despair; there is a reason for hope and a cause for joy. God’s love for us is boundless.
What more could we desire? A love that never dies; surely that is the greatest miracle of all.
But what about those who lie in their graves? What about that magnificent hope that danced in our hearts for an instant when Ezekiel spoke: that those who have died might live again?
In the Scriptures God seems remarkably unconcerned with the dead, rarely discussing their situation with the living. I imagine that’s because we have plenty to do on our own, without worrying about anyone else. I think, too, it is because they are in God’s care, just as we are. Part of the work of faith (and it can be called “work,” for it isn’t always easy) is to trust in God’s love — for us and for all creation, eternally.
May the Holy Spirit encourage and enliven you today and always.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Take time to remember those who have died in service to our country. Pray for peace.