1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon 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.”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
My colleague, Herb Hoefer, used to say that you could tell the Christians in India, where he served as a missionary, because they had hope. He said they simply carried themselves differently as they walked down the street. He sent me over there for a couple of weeks to lead some pastoral conferences over a decade ago. I was not able to read the Indian expressions well enough to say that he was right, but I surely was struck by the indominable hope and joy I found in the Christian people I encountered there. The photo on the right is a young woman I met in an orphanage. Her parents had been swept out to sea in the great tsunami of 2004. She happened to show up in the photo, but her smile was hardly unique. It was all over that orphanage and other places I visited.
There are undoubtedly many reasons for her joy, but I really do think that one of the reasons is the content of this reading from Ezekiel. The people of Israel at the time felt like they had lost all hope. They felt that they were dried up husks and cut off from God. The Babylonians had come and taken them from their homes, killed many, enslaved the rest. They were miserable. But Ezekiel calls them and us to hope in a God who, with a Word, calls forth living people from death. This young woman, who had every reasonable excuse to be angry or to despair found joy. That same God who, through Christian people, picked her up from the wreckage of a tsunami is present in your life today. He does not leave us. You probably have some reason to be unhappy or miserable. Which human life does not? Ill health, poverty, loneliness, familial tension, politics, or something else will be your source of frustration and pain. Like the people of Israel of long ago who had been sent into exile, the reason is real, but God’s promise to you is larger. Hear it from Ezekiel today. God has spoken and He will do it.