Jennifer Tinker, Synod Mission Interpreter
By far, the highlight of the church year for me is the Easter Vigil. I know not every church has a vigil on the Saturday before Easter, but if you can find one in your area, I strongly urge you to go. I love the part of the service in which the Old Testament stories are shared.
One of my favorite Old Testament stories at the Easter Vigil is the story from Ezekiel 37:1-14—The Valley of the Dry Bones. The story is written to Israel, speaking to them of hope that God hasn’t forgotten them. I think it can speak to us as well as we sometimes get to wondering and worrying about the life and livelihood of the church.
The prophet sets the scene for us in verses 1-2. God took him to a valley “full of bones,” there were “many” and “they were very dry.” And then, in verse 3, God asked the prophet, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
What’s noteworthy here is that God is the one asking the “mortal” whether the bones can live! We may wonder whether a mere mortal can presume to know such a thing! Indeed the prophet punts the question right back to God. “O Lord, GOD, you know.”
As church, we do this a bit ourselves. We look about us and see what seems to us to be the hard parts of mission and ministry, and we feel overwhelmed. Oh, these bones. And they are very dry.
Maybe we’re in an established congregation that functioned well with one ministry model for decades, but somehow what worked before isn’t working any more. Can these bones live?
Perhaps the neighborhood around us has changed and we’re not sure if our church knows how to be “relevant” to our community now. Can these bones live?
It could be that pastors have changed, church isn’t the same as it was, and we don’t know if our new minister is going to make it work. Can these bones live?
God nudges us with a simple question—can these bones live? Or can this ministry live? God puts the question to us—not because God doesn’t know the answer—of course God knows! God puts the question to us because God knows we’re already wondering and worrying about these things. God says out loud the question that God knows is on our hearts—God starts the conversation, letting us know that our wondering and worrying can be done with God.
If we’re not sure, as Ezekiel wasn’t quite, we do well to put the question back to God. You see, God—Ezekiel’s God, Israel’s God, our God—is ready to put life in those bones. We as Christians know that our God is a God of resurrection—our God has power to enliven even the driest bones—power even over death itself!
When we have this conversation with God though, we might want to brace ourselves for what comes next. Even though God understands our wondering and worrying, God doesn’t want to leave us there. When God strikes up this conversation with us, God is also inviting us to “prophesy to the bones” and speak God’s promise of life to them. And oh, how those bones will rattle as they come together, bone to bone!
In our present context, it might mean that God asks us to change up our ministry model, build meaningful relationships with people we’ve never met, or embrace the gifts of new leadership. It may be difficult or uncomfortable for us. Some of these changes may involve a measure of grief for us. No matter how necessary or important change may be, it can still be challenging for us.
Oh the rattling.
I don’t think God is trying to rattle us. Rather, God is inviting us into these new phases of life in our mission and ministry to prophesy, breath, and Good-News-bear life into the dry and dying places around us.
Can these bones live? Can the church live?
God promises this in Ezekiel 37:14, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” God has poured out the Holy Spirit on the church. As long as we have the breath of life in us may we be stirred to mission and ministry that enlivens the world with God’s love.
You Shall Live!