Few people these days, or so it seems, know much about the long, complex, and exceedingly odd book of the prophet Ezekiel. But if they know anything, it’s likely to be the passage that we are reading this morning, if only because it was the inspiration for the old spiritual, “Dem Bones,” by James Weldon Johnson, recorded by The Famous Myers Jubilee Singers in 1928. The lyrics include a litany of various bones, their connections:
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone…
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around
Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
Now hear the word of the Lord….
The scene takes place while Ezekiel is under “the LORD’s power,” and while he was “in the LORD’s spirit” and so it is clearly a prophetic vision — a visual metaphor, as it were, as the later explanation offered by God makes clear. The valley where the vision takes place is eerie enough, since it is full of bones, but things get even more spine-tingling when God leads him through and around all of those bones thoroughly (Hebrew translates as “around (and) around”). Not only are there thousands of bones for Ezekiel to wade through (each human body has over 200 bones), they are said to be “very dry”. These bodies have been dead a long time, therefore; all that is left of them is the bones, and those are brittle, exposed to the elements, for only God knows how long.
After this grisly tour, the God who knows how long these bodies have been exposed asks Ezekiel a straightforward but stupefying question: “Can these bones live?” God’s answer is of course they can, and proceeds to make them live. It is the breath of God that transforms this scene so completely just as the breath of God can transform us so completely.
At this time of Advent with the imminent coming of God to earth, we are reminded by this passage of Ezekiel that all things are possible for God. Even things that seem so far away from possible are indeed possible. What can that tell us on this day when we light the candle of peace?
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