Rev Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, writes a regular column for each issue of Canada Lutheran.
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Acknowledge the dryness in your life and move toward becoming a renewed being with energy, hope, and vision.
One of my favourite texts for the season of Lent is Ezekiel 37:1–14. Here we read how the spirit of the Lord brought the prophet Ezekiel into a valley full of dry bones. Ezekiel, prophesying as God commanded him, saw the bones come together with great noise and rattling and saw sinews, flesh, and skin cover the bones. Finally, the breath or spirit of God came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet—a vast multitude.
I think we all can identify with the stark picture Ezekiel paints for us of the valley of dry bones. Spent, dry, useless bones piled up in the dusty valley crying out, "Our bones are dry, our hope has gone, we are done for."
What has turned your life to dry bones? Extended illness, problems at work, plans that didn't work out? The constant repetition of busy days and nights too short on sleep? Financial difficulty, worry, or anxiety; the loss of a loved one; failure in a relationship; a feeling of being rejected, deserted, betrayed, or abandoned? Or is it the lack of sunshine, the seemingly unending winter, cold, and snow? Any of these can cause even the liveliest of spirits to feel some depression and weariness.
Yet, there are corporate experiences of the dry valley as well. We can feel like dry bones when our congregation struggles; when we see so much sorrow in the world; when we think of the dusty, dry soil that leads to drought, famine, and starvation; when we see the smouldering piles of ashes in the wreckage and destruction of wartorn places; or when we see so much hate, violence, conflict, and greed surrounding us.
It's important to name and acknowledge our experiences of being dry bones, but even more important, we need to then remember the promise of new life and rescue from the dry valley. That is the wonder, the amazing thing: God does not leave us in the dry valley. God is there caring for us, hurting even as we hurt, weeping, like Jesus wept over Lazarus. Just like with the dry bones, God calls us to new life and breathes new energy, hope, and vision into us.
Lent reminds us and encourages us to take a close look at ourselves and at the dryness of our lives. Lent also encourages us to look at the signs of spring that are around us, the signs and promise of new life.
We are moving from dry bones to living beings. And that, my friends, isn't always an easy thing to do—it takes effort. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to move toward life again. This is what the Lenten disciplines of prayer, worship, fasting, almsgiving, service, and so on are all about. They help us reconnect with God, the life-giving spark in our lives. And we are here to help and encourage each other to make that journey.
God is still here. You may not feel the wind on your face, but the breath of the Holy Spirit is still here. Your bones may feel dry, but there is living water deep within them. You may not see the flames or feel the heat, but there are embers inside you just waiting to be sparked back into life.
Let us give thanks to God for the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Let us boldly ask for the Spirit's presence among us to strengthen our faith, to guide our lives, to empower our serving, and to fill our hearts with joy! And let us also pray that we may be receptive and open to the movement of the Spirit within us and among us. Amen.
Bishop Susan C. Johnson
Canada Lutheran, January/February 2008