Preaching to Bones

I've offered a homily to a tough crowd or two, but nothing like the stone faces Ezekiel met.

In a scene only God and Tim Burton could have dreamed up, God gives Ezekiel a vision of a wide valley knee deep in bones. Brittle corpses picked clean by the vultures and bleached white by the sun. Deader than dead. God queries Ezekiel. "Mortal," God says (and don't you love how God likes to make certain it's clear who's who), "what do you think – could these bones live again?" Ezekiel, who must have been having quite the day, gave the only sane answer. "How could I possibly say? Only you know answers like that."

So God tells Ezekiel to go preach to the dead, dry bones. I could make a too-easy wisecrack about the dry bones sitting in the pew most Sundays, but we all know there are just as many dry bones standing at the pulpit. And too many sermons that have scraped away all the mystery and imagination, leaving nothing but a carcass text and a skeleton congregation, all begging to be put out of their misery. We're all, one way or another, dry bones; and we all need the sermon Ezekiel preached. "This is what the Lord God says to you bones," Ezekiel pronounced. "Live."

Suddenly, there was a noise, "a rattling," says Ezekiel. And those bones shook off death's dust and began to knock together. Awkwardly at first, rickety. Then the toe bones connected to the foot bones. And the foot bones connected to the ankle bones. All the way up to the head bone – they all heard the word of the Lord. What a sight. A preacher could spend his whole life running on the fumes from an altar call like that.

"I will put my Spirit within you," God said. "And you shall live." Wherever we're tired to the bone or worn to the bone, whenever our heart feels like it's got nothing left but cold bones, then we listen to old Ezekiel preach the sermon that really wasn't his sermon at all. And that sermon repeats one word: Live.