Friday, April 08, 2011

Them bones, them bones, them dry bones...

Preparing for the sermon on Sunday, and preaching on the Ezekiel 37 text, and I read Jenson's commentary on the passage.

For it has come to this: Israel as a whole and as such (37:11) is--as Ezekiel so often threatened--well and truly dead, a strewing of remains no longer even skeletal, so definitely of the past that the bones have separated and preserve no personal identities--no one can even point and say, "Alas, poor... I knew him well." The word of Gen. 2:17 has finally been fulfilled: the clash between God's will and human will for his human creatures, by which alone they live, and their refusal to follow that will, has been worked out in the history of Israel and has come to its inevitable conclusion.
Is then what the Lord here shows Ezekiel what it appears to be, the irreversible end of Israel's history with the Lord? And that is, of the bearer of the Lord's history with all humanity? Can Israel rise again? Indeed, can humanity, dependent for its specific being on the Lord's presence in history, live as what it was created to be? The Lord puts the question to Ezekiel: "Son of a man, what do you think? Can the dead live again?"
Ezekiel has no answer; this knowledge is beyond a son of man. But Ezekiel does know that the Lord is the giver of life; our passage is pervaded by a reminiscence of the Lord's first vivification of humankind (Gen. 2:7). And he knows that therefore the Lord can answer the question yes or no as he chooses. So he throws the question back.
For answer he receives an implicit yes: a command to prophesy life to the dead. Even in the nonbeing of death bones can hear him, because the word given the prophet is the same word that gives being and life in the first place, that addresses precisely "things that are not" (1Cor. 1:28). Thus Ezekiel is to do nothing less that speak the dead back to life (Exek. 37:4-6): we arrive at the extreme possibility of the prophets' general assignment "to pluck up and to pull down... to build and to plant" (Jer. 1:9-10). In this vision, Ezekiel speaks as commanded and the dead are raised (Ezek. 37:7-10).
Ezekiel, Robert Jenson, Brazos Press, pp. 281-282, 2009

The question for us preachers is the same addressed to Ezekiel, I think. As we address our congregations the question resonates, "Can these bones lives?" Can the people tired out and worn down by competing messages that seek to divide our loyalty and drive us from the source of life, can they find the true life promised by God, even if it is a penulitmate life now, but to be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus "I am the resurrection and the life" for the resurrection on the last day.

When we prophesy or preach, do we bring God's Word, the word that vivifies ( I love that word), or just hot air that dries us out even more?

Can we help people see God's Word as life giving in a dry and desert land? Can we see Lent as the oasis that brings God's life-giving will to us that we are raised to new life now and ultimately at the end of time?

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