Dry Earth, Dry Bones
This morning at New Life, we had a very short worship, and scurried to our cars as the storm blew in. We sang, we prayed, and we heard the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones. It was short, but good. Here's the sermon for your reading pleasure. Ironically- it is about dry times!
Dry earth, dry bones.
Sermon: Carmen Retzlaff, New Life Lutheran, Dripping Springs, Texas, 4-2-17
The hand of the Lord came upon Ezekiel, who was in exile from his homeland. In his vision, Ezekiel feels the hand of the Lord upon him, bringing him out and setting him in the middle of a dry valley, filled with bones.
After weeks of water stories in the Gospel of John this Lent, we find ourselves in a desert so dry it seems devoid of life. Desiccated. Here at New Life, we are northeast of the great Chihuahuan Desert of North America, but not into the fertile coastal plains of East Texas. The Hill Country is sparsely forested in some areas by great live oaks and ash juniper. Many native grasses once grew around them, along with dry-climate plants like prickly pear cactus and agarita. We’re high enough above the Trinity aquifer to be decidedly arid, though subject to the climate of Texas famously referred to by meteorologists (as I first heard from Jeff W.) as “drought with periods of flooding.”
The green-but-arid climate of Babylon, the city of exile from which Ezekiel prophesied, and of Jerusalem, the longed-for home, both resemble the Texas Hill Country. Dry but not desolate.
Between those two places - Babylon, the new home of the people of God, and Jerusalem, the one they missed, was one of the driest places on earth, the Arabian desert. 900,000 square miles of desert, which did and does dictate travel and population patterns in the Middle East. As the crow flies, Jerusalem was about 500 miles from Babylon, but travelers followed the arc of the Euphrates River, and the Fertile Crescent, making the distance about 900 miles.
Between two great arid but fertile cities, a vast and dangerous desert. Between the emotional and cultural desert experience of forced exile and home, was a physical desert of sand. They could not cross the emotional distance nor the physical one.
Into this dryness and longing, God sends a vision to Ezekiel, a fiery, dramatic prophet. God says to the prophet, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord,” and Ezekiel calls out to the bones, and the bones rattle, become covered with flesh and then skin, one of the most famous literary images of all time.
In nature, Ezekiel’s vision is regularly reenacted after desert rains. Deserts that seem almost lifeless burst with plants; birds and insects appear. Animals that have lain dormant in the earth, like desert toads, emerge. Seeds wait for years, or decades, or longer, for the right amount of moisture to begin the cycle of rebirth. It is a miracle, each time, not unlike flesh coming onto desiccated bones.
And that is God’s message to the people: a message of hope and rebirth.
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…I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil.
Flourishing and abundant, with the soil of home beneath their feet, Israel shall live again.
And that is God’s message to us. Drought will not last forever. The rains will come. The breath of God will enliven the darkest situation, or the most alienating exile. We cannot see the life that is still there, even in the driest times of our lives, but God can.