Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Key verse: (3) “Can these bones live?”
Reflection: I am embarrassed to confess something. I’m hooked on a zombie TV show called “The Walking Dead.” If it were something a bit more sophisticated, perhaps I wouldn’t feel as guilty, but it’s not. It’s “The Walking Dead,” a gory, zombie apocalypse series based on a comic book, filled with gratuitous violence and unnecessarily grotesque scenes of zombies doing what zombies do. I’m not alone in my addiction to this. Though its ratings were off in season 7, it is still #1 among adults age 18-49. In its history, “The Walking Dead” has broken all cable rating records. What is it about zombies? Why is our culture so enamored with the undead? Commentator Nicolas Barber suggests we are drawn to zombies these days because they tap into a deep fear born of the uncertain state of our current world. He writes, “It can’t be a coincidence… that zombies are in vogue during a period when climate change is playing havoc with weather patterns, and when both terrorist bombers and global corporations seem to be beyond the reach of any country’s jurisdiction.” Our world seems to live on the edge of apocalypse. What’s really scary about zombies is the threat of becoming one, one of the undead hordes mindlessly making their way through the world, driven only by a quest for consumption. Perhaps what drives the ratings of the zombie genre is a hunger for a life of meaning and purpose.
Something about Ezekiel 37 makes me think of zombies. Can these bones live? That’s the question God poses to Ezekiel as he stands in the midst of the valley of the dry bones. It’s a metaphor for Israel in exile. All that remains of the world they once knew are the bones of what once was, the toppled stones of the wall surrounding Jerusalem they thought could protect them, the collapsed columns of the grand Temple Solomon had built, the crumpled remains of Zion’s glory. “Mortal, can these bones live?” asks the Lord. It is a question that continues to be posed in our world so fascinated with the undead. It can be posed of our own lives. Can I find meaning? Can I find a life that really matters? For too many it’s a question asked of relationships that have lost the life they once knew. Exiled by some landmark event, or by years of wandering away from one another, or by the silence of the empty nest, the question comes, “Can these bones live?” It’s a question many ask about institutional religion. Every branch of mainline Protestantism is in decline, as are Catholics, Jews, and even Southern Baptists. With each new generation, fewer and fewer participate in organized religion, or in organizations of any kind. Ask the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, and the Masons. We’re in the midst of a cultural shift. Can these bones live?
How does Ezekiel Answer? He could say, “No, Lord, they can’t. There’s no way. We have to face reality.” It’s tempting to give into the cynicism and nihilism of the day. But that’s not what Ezekiel says. He could say, “You bet! Power of positive thinking, Lord! You must believe to achieve! Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars! These bones can live, Lord!” But that’s not what he says. What does he say? “Only you know, O Lord.” Only you know. How does the Lord respond? Prophesy. Prophesy to the bones. What does it mean to prophesy? So often prophesy is confused with prediction. People read prophets like Ezekiel and try to turn him into Nostradamus filling in predicted details of what the future holds. But this is not the role of a prophet in the Bible. Prophets challenge present realities by proclaiming where those realities will lead people. More importantly, prophets cast a vision of what God’s tomorrow will be. This is what it means to prophesy—to cast a vision of God’s tomorrow. “Prophesy, Ezekiel,” says the Lord. Cast a vision of life and see what happens to those old dry bones.
Faithfully, that’s exactly what Ezekiel does. He prophesies. He casts a vision of God’s tomorrow and what happens? Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones start to rattle; Hip bone connected to the thigh bone; thigh bone connected to the knee bone; knee bone connected to the shin bone; shin bone connected to the ankle bone… You know the rest. Now hear the word of the Lord! Then come tendons and ligaments and muscles and skin, and before Ezekiel can sing the second verse, there they lay. Yet they are not yet alive. They might as well be zombies. Without the Spirit, without the Breath of God, there’s no power to make the vision a reality. The Spirit brings life. The Spirit brings power. The Spirit transforms dreams into reality. And when Ezekiel calls for the breath, for that Spirit of God that first breathed life into Adam and Eve, they live, they rise from their graves, they stand on their feet, a vast multitude.
Can these bones live? Only you know, O Lord. We know God shares the breath of life with us all. God’s breath brings rattling bones to life. This Eastertide, we know God rolls away the stones that seal our graves and calls us forth to new life. Because that’s who God is, and that’s what God does.
Prayer: “Come from the four winds, O breath, Come Holy Spirit into this world that too often lives in fear of death, wandering in search of meaning in a mindless quest of consumption. Breathe upon us, breath of God, that we may live.” Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].