This is the second post of our Valley of Dry Bones series. Do not forget to take a look at Part I. If you are finding this series valuable, we would love if you would share it with your community!
By all accounts, the dry bones passage is a resurrection story. It has all the markings of the audacious hope associated with resurrection, and like all resurrection stories it is both macabre and strangely delightful.
This prophecy is so remarkable, it is a sermon in and of itself. To deepen our appreciation of this prophecy, however, we do well to see it in its larger context. When I say this, I am not actually talking about the immediate context. With respect to the immediate context – Ezekiel is bringing a prophesy to the citizens of Judah who have seen their homes destroyed and who have been cast into exile, many of whom were also killed along the way. But it is the much larger context that interests me. What I am referring to here is the long arc of the Biblical story – or more accurately – the long arc of the human story.
I first noticed this arc when I was an undergraduate student. I was taking a course in Old Testament and began to see that the professor, with the exception of a few details, could have – more or less – taught the course in one lecture. Because, although the characters changed, the storyline remained the same. First the people were faithful. Then they were unfaithful. Then God called them back. And then the people were faithful and then they were unfaithful and then God called them back and then they were faithful and so forth and so forth.
This pattern continued throughout what we call the Old Testament, it continued through the New Testament, through the 2000 years of history since then, and it continues to this day. While we don’t typically describe this narrative arc in terms of faithfulness, the pattern itself appears to hold steady. With Jesus, we have a name for this pattern: life, death and resurrection. The Catholic Church calls it the via illuminativa, the via purgativa and the via unitiva. Similarly, a common order of worship begins with words of praise, followed by prayers of confession, followed by words of assurance. In each of these examples, it is the very same pattern at work.
To be clear – I am not suggesting that Jesus’ death represented unfaithfulness. What I am suggesting, however, is that the grand narrative appears to follow what author Cynthia Bourgeault sometimes calls the “law of three.” This law affirms the goodness of all of creation; it recognizes that suffering will come; and it celebrates an enduring promise of consolation. Valleys of dry bones are not willed by God. And yet, in its own strange way, suffering is a part of the grand narrative. Life does what life does. Suffering will come. Richard Rohr has famously said, “There are three things in life of which you can be sure: (1) That God loves you unconditionally; (2) that suffering will come, and (3) that in the midst of your suffering a hand will reach toward you, seeking to pull you to the side of joy once more.”
You might ask – What about those people who never have the privilege of experiencing consolation? What about those for whom the valley of dry bones is the valley from which they never arise? Where was the hand of consolation for Michael Sharp?
Before we answer those questions it is important to stay with the grand narrative a little longer. The law of three is like a key that unlocks a riddle.
When we recognize the pattern — we can choose our starting point. Let me explain: When I was in seminary, a student remarked in class that every sermon must begin with the fact that we are all sinners. I will confess that it took significant self-control for me not to interrupt the student before he finished speaking. I was ready to jump out of my skin. Beginning every sermon with the fact that we are sinners is just plain bad theology and also bad psychology.
Why? Because where we begin changes everything. If we begin with sin, we will end with sin. If we begin with brokenness and death, we will end with brokenness and death. If, however, we begin with awe and wonder and mystery and the goodness of all creation and God’s great love, we will end with awe, wonder, mystery, the goodness of all creation and God’s great love.
It is not that confession and suffering won’t come. Remember – the grand narrative assumes suffering. It recognizes sin and brokenness. Nonetheless the question of where we begin remains. In fact, we can pose the question of where we begin this way: Does your life narrative begin with original sin or with original blessing?
Because at some point in history, before the valley was full of dry bones, it was full of laughter, joy, wonder, beauty and delight. The book of Genesis after all does not begin with sin or dry bones; it begins with creation and with God’s breath breathing into and onto all of creation.
Let us imagine for a moment that we do begin with original blessing – that before we see the world as broken, tragic and sad, we see the world as pregnant with awe and wonder and mystery.
Take a moment to recall your own experiences of wonder and allow these memories to flow into the bedrock of your being.
Now imagine walking into the valley of dry bones with this wonder as the foundation of your soul. How does this influence your experience of the valley?
Photo Credit: Eddie Stigson