This Sunday’s passage from Ezekiel (Ezek. 37:1-14) – the dry bones; the clatter of their coming together; their being clothed in sinew and flesh; the breath entering them; their standing up – has for centuries been one of the favorite and most hopeful passages in the Hebrew Bible. God asks the prophet, “Mortal, can these bones live?” God might ask us: Can your spirit, crushed by disappointment, failure, or disaster, live again? Can the mainstream church, which in the Western world appears to be dying, or at least is on life support, due to social and demographic changes that have been occurring since the 1960s, live and thrive again? Ezekiel’s response to the question might be ours, too. “O Lord God, you know,” he said, or as we might say: God knows!
The question, however, seems not to be whether these bones can live again. They do live and breathe again in the Ezekiel passage. Our tradition teaches us that, yes, they can. We hope in resurrection even if we don’t see evidence of it, so our standard answer is, yes, they can. But the real question, the one that must challenge us if it’s to be meaningful, the one that challenges me, is this: After these bones live again, after they’ve been reassembled and reanimated, then what? “I prophesied as [God] commanded me,” Ezekiel writes, “and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.” They stood on their feet, as if waiting for the next act in the drama.
The mighty army, the church, I, will breathe again, live again, ready for – what? That’s the question. When God called Abram to leave his home and begin the journey toward the land God would show him, God blessed him so that he would be a blessing to the whole earth (Gen. 12:1-3). God brought Jesus through his testing in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11) and gave him a ministry that would eventually reach to all people (Matt. 28:19). When God brings us through our crisis, our wilderness, even our death, what’s it for? What comes next? What vocation does God give us that will bless the earth? Toward what, or into what, do our first tentative new steps take us? Maybe those are the questions Paul had in mind when he encouraged the Philippian church, and us, “to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” trusting that “God is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for [God’s] good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).
God does bring us through from death to life, for God’s own purpose. What is your sense of that purpose, and how is it being worked out in me? In you? In us? Good questions on which to ruminate today.