There is nothing deader than bones. Dessicated, dusty, long dead bones. The hand of the YHWH was heavy on Ezekiel. The Holy Spirit led him to a valley full of dry, dusty bones. Lots of bones. Bones scattered all over the place, long dissociated from their rightful owners. Skulls and arms and legs. Who were they? No one seems to know. It’s like something out of CSI. We need dental records, DNA sequences. What happened in this valley? A natural disaster, or perhaps. Or more likely a battle gone bad, a defeated army, left dead in the desert to dry up without so much as a decent burial. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” The flesh is the first to go; the bones are the last. And then you are dust.
“Son of Man, can these bones live?” That’s the question for us on this Pentecost Sunday, the Sunday of the Holy Spirit, when Jesus breathed on His church as He had breathed on His apostles seven weeks before. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit-ed Living giving Breath of God. The Spirit who moved over the waters of the deep in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. “When you send your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” (Ps 104).
Can these dead, dry bones live? Ordinary experience says no. Forensic science says no. We can tell who they were, perhaps how they died, how old they were when they died, their general health. Bones are the archivists of the body, telling the story of a life long after it ended. Think of fossils, or bones accidentally uncovered, or bones found where bones don’t belong. They tell silent, dusty stories. But can they live again? Only God knows. “O Lord YHWH, you alone know.”
Ezekiel receives a two part vision. The first part shows the power of the Word. “Preach to these bones.” They are the prophet’s congregation, only slightly more dead than many congregations on a Sunday morning, I suspect. “Preach to these bones.” Seems kind of silly, doesn’t it? Preaching to old, dried up bones. Ah, don’t underestimate the power of the preached Word hidden under foolishness. Oh, we would certainly mark Ezekiel as a fool, or a lunatic, talking to a valley of bones. But when the Lord says “preach,” you preach, even if it’s to a bunch of dry, dusty bones.
There was a noise. Rattling. Bone against bone. Bones coming together, back to their rightful owners. That’s what Ezekiel heard. Rattling bones. What he saw was even more amazing. Tendons and flesh appearing on the bones; skin covering the bones. That’s the creative power of the Word at work. Don’t underestimate it; don’t ignore it. Through the Word all things were made. By the Word all things hold together. The Word creates, renews, sanctifies, enlivens. It rattles your dry, dead bones. Bodies long dead are resurrected with new muscle and tendon and flesh and blood and skin. Wow! Wouldn’t you have loved to be peeking over the prophet’s shoulder and look down into that valley and see that? Or maybe not?
It’s a little too weird, perhaps. A bit too uncomfortable, maybe. Not exactly in your comfort zone, is ti? It would be safer to say this was a dream, a hallucination, a vision, anything but real. Then we could tuck it safely away in the past with those “primitive people.” We modern types of the 21st century are far too sophisticated to think that dry dead bones can shake, rattle, and reassemble themselves and live, just because someone preaches at them.
The same could be said of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It’s terribly inconvenient and uncomfortable to the old Adam in us to think that a grave of a dead man is empty, His body risen. That’s the point of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Jesus was not abandoned to the grave; His body did not see decay; God has vindicated Jesus by raising Him bodily from the grave. “And we are all eyewitnesses of the fact,” Peter preaches. Dry bones lived that Pentecost Day. Three thousand believed, were baptized, received the Spirit and lived by the preached Word of Jesus.
We need to be shaken ourselves, come out of our comfortable little religious hideaways, our saccharine spiritualities, our pious platitudes. We need to have our bones rattled by the Word that says, “You are no more alive than those dry and dusty bones. Dead in sin. Dead in iniquity. Dead in transgression. Dead in lust and greed and idolatry.” But those bones of yours can live, and do live. Not by your efforts. What can bones do to live? “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord – the Spirit who works through the Word.
The second part of the Eziekiel’s vision underscores the unity of the Word and the Spirit. There is flesh on the bones, but no breath. Without breath, they can’t live, just as when God made Adam out of the mud, but without the “breath of lIfe” Adam was just a lifeless lump of clay. “Preach to the breath, preach, O son of man.” Summon the breath from the four winds of the earth – from the north, south, east, and west – and tell the Breath to breathe into these dead bodies that they may live.
We confess the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of Life.” By the Spirit-Breath of God, we breathe; we have life. The Spirit and the Word; the Word and the Spirit. They always go together. The Holy Spirit is a preacher – calling, gathering, enlightening, making holy, stirring up faith, forgiving sin, bearing fruit – all by the Word He causes to be preached.
When that little congregation gathered together in the upper room at Pentecost, there was the sound of rushing wind. The Breath of Jesus blowing over His church. And there were tongues like fire, separating and resting on all the disciples. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Fire as in the pillar of fire that lead Israel across the Sea. Fire as in Sinai fire, a mountain ablaze with the Torah, the Word. Fire as in a refining fire, burning away the dross, the useless stuff, refining the silver, the gold, your faith.
Wind and fire were the unique elements of that first Pentecost. They were like the fireworks and balloons at a grand opening. God was inaugurating the Last Days. The time of the end had come. Jesus had died on a cross for the redemption of the world. The world was now reconciled to God in Jesus. Jesus had risen from the dead, and for forty days was seen by over 500 eyewitnesses. Jesus had ascended to the right hand of the Father, disappeared into a heavenly cloud, out of sight but not absent. Truly present by Word and Spirit.
Peter preached that day. He preached to thousands, where fifty days before he was afraid to even be known as one of Jesus’ disciples. The resurrection of Jesus and the Spirit will do that to you – turn cowards into couragious preachers of good news. The disciples spoke in a variety of languages and dialects, and everyone who was in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost heard the preaching of Jesus in his own native language and dialect.
The lasting gift of Pentecost is not rushing wind or tongues of fire or speaking in fluent foreign languages. The lasting gift is the Spirit-ed Word of God. The Word preached out of the mouths of men with the very breath of Jesus. “The sins you forgive are forgiven.” Jesus’ own breath and words and Spirit. At the end of that Pentecost day, three thousand were baptized. Three thousand had the Word have its faith creating, faith enlivening way with them. Three thousand were joined to Jesus in His death, His life, His glory. Three thousand were clothed with Christ. Three thousand became members of Christ body, continuing in the teaching of the apostles, in the breaking of the Bread, that is, Holy Communion, and in the prayers. Three thousand in one day, by the power of the Word and the Spirit.
Your personal Pentecost is your baptismal day, whenever and wherever that was. There you were joined to Jesus by the Word and Spirit in the water. And in a real sense, every Sunday is Pentecost when you hear that your sins are forgiven in Jesus, that your death is answered for in Jesus, that your life is hidden in Jesus, and His life – His own body and blood – are hidden in you.
Son of Men, can these dry, dead bones of ours live? Can your dry, dead bones live? Jesus answers, “Oh yes they can.” As sure as He is risen from the dead is sure, these bones can live. As sure as the Word and breath of Jesus blow over them, they will live.
“O my people, I am going to open your graves aqnd bring you up from them; I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I, YHWH, have spoken, and I have done it,” declares the Lord.
In the Name of Jesus,