Church of the Brethren
Virlina District
3402 Plantation Road, NE
Roanoke, Virginia  24012
(800) 847-5462
(540) 362-1816
Virlina District

Church of the Brethren
Continuing the Work of Jesus.  Peacefully. Simply. Together.
Continuing the Work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.

Awakening Services -- Monday April 8, 2019

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14 -- TiTLE: Dry Bones and Holy Marrow

SPEAKER: Daniel Rudy

            “Mortal, can these bones live?”[1] This question from God to the prophet Ezekiel is one of the most poignant questions in all of scripture. Can these dry bones, skeletal remains that have been removed from mortal life so long that the flesh has decomposed live? Can dry and decaying institutions that have the outward form of life, but inwardly have long since lost the drive that made them live again? Can we, when all hope is lost, not only for us as individuals, but also as the church be restored to hope filled life? This is the question that drives our interaction with the Holy Spirit today.

            For those of us who have experienced death, the death of a loved one or someone else that we knew, there is a time when that death becomes real to us. If the person has suffered a long physical or mental decline, the reality of death may hit long before the person has physically died, but we still need to see evidence that the person is actually gone. This is the reason that most funerals are preceded by a viewing where friends and relatives can see the body of the person who has died and come to grips with the fact that the person is actually gone. This dose of reality is very important to the grieving process because it helps us to come to terms with death.

            When the spirit of the Lord led Ezekiel into the field of bones, there was plenty of visual evidence that those bones were long dead. In fact, these bones that were in the field had been dead so long that the flesh and sinews had wasted away with only the bones left. Scripture tells us that the bones had been without life for so long that they were dry.[2] Before embalming was common, there was nothing to restrict the process of decomposition. Bones remain long after the other parts of the physical body have decomposed. To have dry bones, all of the marrow and blood that flowed in and around the bones would have been long gone. To put it in simple terms, the undisputable evidence was there before the prophet’s eyes that people who these bones belonged to were really and finally dead and had been so for quite some time.

            Considering all of this evidence of the finality of death, I find God’s question to Ezekiel to be all the more meaningful. “Mortal, can these bones live?”[3] By this time, I wonder if Ezekiel’s experience with God was so well developed that he sensed a setup. His answer to God’s question, “O Lord God, you know”[4] can be interpreted several different ways. One possible understanding is that Ezekiel was dodging the question. To throw the question right back onto God was one way to avoid staking a claim. It is almost as if Ezekiel knows that whatever he answers will be wrong. If he says yes, he is demanding that God act. If he says no, he is questioning the power of God. But even with this dilemma, I believe that there is something deeper to Ezekiel’s answer. I believe that Ezekiel senses that God is eager to reveal God’s message to his prophet and Ezekiel’s answer to God’s question is an invitation to God to do what God has already decided.

            God takes Ezekiel’s bait and further reveals his message. He says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live. 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.”[5] While we often think of the Lord God speaking in an even voice, I sense God getting excited as he commands Ezekiel to prophesy. God has a vision for what he is about to do and that vision brings hope and excitement. Never mind that God is speaking to dry bones that do not hear, God is excited about what he is about to do.

            When Ezekiel does as God commands him, he begins to hear as strange rattling. The bones that litter the entire valley are being woven together before the prophet’s very eyes.[6] As he continues to prophesy, sinews come upon the bones followed by flesh and skin.[7] God is acting before the Ezekiel’s eyes to bring about God’s purposes, but even as the bodies of these bones are woven back together, there is still no breath in them. Then God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds O breath and breathe upon these slain that they may live.”[8] The Hebrew word “ruah” is translated as breath, wind or spirit in English. According to biblical scholar Kathryn Darr, this is the same idea that appears in Genesis 2 when God forms the human from the dust and breathes the breath of life into him.[9] In breathing the spirit into the bodies that have been restored from these dry bones, God is infusing the same spirit that was active in his work of creation into his work of redemption. And when Ezekiel prophesies as God commanded, the breath comes from the four winds and the bodies have new life coursing through their veins.[10]

            While this is a vivid vision of dry bones coming to life, God takes great pains to make sure that we understand that there is more going on here than a few hundred dead people getting a new lease on life. God says to Ezekiel that these bones represent the whole house of Israel, dried up with all hope lost cut off from the company of the Lord.[11] But even with dry bones languishing in exile, God is not yet finished with the Israelites. He says to Ezekiel that he will open their graves, bring them back into the land and restore them. God also promises to put his spirit within them offering them both life and the knowledge that God has both spoken and will act.[12]

            This vision from the prophet Ezekiel has brought hope for new life to both Jews and Christians approximately 2,500 years. But as I listen to our discourse today, I wonder if we do not need a fresh dose of the hope offered by Ezekiel. Every time new demographic statistics are released, I hear much gnashing of teeth about how among young adults the percentage of people who claim no religious affiliation is rising and the percentage of Christians is falling. Of course, it requires very little genuine faith or commitment to tell a Gallup poll that you are a Christian, but I wonder if what is really going on here is that the chronically under-committed see no reason to even pay lip service anymore to a faith that barely matters to them. Without a sense of the history of our faith, one might think that the rise of the nones is the greatest calamity in the history of the church, as if the church of Jesus Christ had not survived through centuries of persecution from without and turning away from Christ to purse worldly status and wealth from within. And yet through all of these problems, the good news of transformation though Christ has not been and cannot be conquered or silenced.

            Into this situation of social change in the society and depression about decline inside the church comes this vision of hope from Ezekiel. The words of the prophet tell us that our God can raise faithful people from dry and decaying bones. He can lay sinews and flesh upon them, and empower them with the holy marrow of the spirit. The ideas of resurrection and empowerment to new life through the spirit of God did not originate in the New Testament. They have been there all along, woven into the law and the prophets. Through all of the tumultuous experiences of scripture, through slavery and exodus from Egypt, through exile and restoration and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our God is an active God who is at work in the world. Our question, is do we trust that God is still placing holy marrow in dry bones? Do we believe that God can bring new life to our congregations and this denomination by the breath of the Holy Spirit? Because if we answer yes to this question, we are then called to serve God with the conviction that our best days are yet to come. Receiving this vision from God, Ezekiel had the courage to tell the exiles that God’s best for them was in a future they barely dared to dream of. Do we likewise have the hope that even though our bones may be decaying, God can infuse us with holy marrow? Do we have the trust that God is still at work in this world bringing life from death by the power of his Holy Spirit? If we have that trust, we are then called to live in hopeful expectation. So then, I ask again, mortals can our dry bones live? Amen.


[1] Ezekiel 37:3                                                                                                                                                                   

[2] Ezekiel 37:2

[3] Ezekiel 37:3

[4] Ezekiel 37:3

[5] Ezekiel 37:4-6

[6] Ezekiel 37:7

[7] Ezekiel 37:7-8

[8] Ezekiel 37:9

[9] Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, “The Book of Ezekiel: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections,” New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Volume 7, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994, 1500.

[10] Ezekiel 37:10

[11] Ezekiel 37:11

[12] Ezekiel 37:13-14