By Steven Norris
The following is adapted from the author’s book Emptied Out: A Personal Journey Through Lent.
I will forever remember the day my wife and I visited Vicksburg National Military Park. This park contains 17,077 graves of Civil War soldiers, of which 12,909 are unknown. Row upon row of white tombs stand as a testament to the horrors of war and the death that inevitably follows.
In Ezekiel 37, the prophet is given a vision of a valley that is littered with bones picked clean and decayed almost to the point of dust. We don’t really know what has transpired in this valley. Was there a war? A famine? A drought? A plague? All we know for sure is this: there is no life here, only a monument to death.
The season of Lent is a time to enter into the reality of our own valley of dry bones. Especially in 2021, when talk of death, loss, division, and turmoil have erupted like never before. Into this situation, we hear the words of God ringing in our ears, “Can these dry bones live again?”
It is a great question. In fact, it is THE question of our life. In the midst of our failure, is redemption possible? In the midst of our abandonment, is reconciliation possible? In the midst of our pain, is healing possible? In the midst of our death, is new life really possible? Can God really cause these bones to rise again? Can God really bring good out of tragedy? Can God really breathe life where there is only death?
I can do no better than to echo the prophet Ezekiel, “O Lord God, you know.”
When I look with my human eyes, I see hopelessness. I see the continued struggle we all face — the never-ending uphill climb, the daily battle against sin, and the temptation to despair. When I catch a glimpse through the eyes of the Spirit, however, I discover a different story.
Ezekiel describes God’s intervention in this helpless situation. God commands the prophet to speak, saying, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they might live.” The word for breath here is ruach, and is the same word used for the Spirit of God. The prophet is saying, “Come, O Spirit of God, from the four corners of the world, from the very edges of creation, and converge in this place. Let the storm of your creation and re-creation descend to bring life where there is no hope of life. Let this dead ground be the fertile soil from which resurrection springs.”
As we draw closer and closer to Easter, this story is a reminder that the resurrection is not just about Jesus. We need new life as well. These dry bones reveal the truth about our circumstances. God wants to do more than rehabilitate our lives. God wants a total renovation. God wants to do more than resuscitate our old bodies. God wants to give us new life. God wants more than revival. God wants re-creation. God wants resurrection.