Thirsty! Bone dry thirsty! The kind of thirsty the psalmist was talking about when he said, “my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” (Psalm 22:15). Dry mouth, dry bones, dry skin. Exhausted, weary, worn out. “My strength is dried up like a piece of broken pottery.” (Psalm 22:15). A mouth full of sand and not enough saliva to spit it out. No one to give you a drink of water. Thirsty!
And we hear that “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.”
So what was this that the Spirit of the Lord swept His prophet off to see? Was it a graveyard? If it was, it was a very strange graveyard because cemeteries don’t leave the bodies on the surface. They bury them.
Was it a battlefield? Maybe. What a disastrous battle it must have been. When I was in Cambodia, I walked through the Killing Fields where Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge gang slaughtered over a million people in the early 1960’s. In the middle of the field stands a gruesome monument. A four story, glass structure, filled to the brim with skulls and bones that were lying right on top of the ground of the field in which I was standing.
But this is neither graveyard nor battlefield. “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” These are the people of God. This is the holy, Christian Church all gathered together in one place.
Now that’s a surprise. I would have guessed that these were the bones of pagans who dance around idols, worship trees and sacrificed their children, whom the Lord stuck down. But no, these are the people of God – “the whole house of Israel.” Old Testament Israel, yea – but if you ran the DNA of those bones, you’d find it to be a perfect match to ours.
A. Physical Thirst
Israel knew what it meant to be thirsty. When they lived in Egypt, they had all the water they wanted from the Nile River. Even in their Exodus out of Egypt, they went through the Red Sea with a wall of water on their left and a wall of water on their right.
But the pillar of cloud and fire led them into the desert and before long they were thirsty. Bone dry thirsty. And they “quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink’” “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:2-3).
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell THE ROCK before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of THE ROCK for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle…”
A Rock? Really? “And water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.” (Numbers 20:7-8,11) Enough water to quench the thirst of all Israel from that ONE ROCK – sparkling, cool, clear, refreshing water. And all of Israel was relieved, satisfied, refreshed by the water that came from that ONE ROCK.
B. Spiritual Thirst
We however are not so threatened by physical dehydration and thirst as they were. Oh, we get thirsty alright… But not because there’s no water. Water runs freely. It comes from the tap or in bottles with designer labels; plain or carbonated; 27 flavors, with added electrolytes, caffeine and oxygen. With ice or without ice. However you like it.
But there is another kind of thirst that we know very well and suffer from a great deal. And that is the thirst of a parched soul and a parched life that can become bone dry.
• Lonely hearts pant for friendship and companionship in a world in which social-isolation has become the commandment to obey if you want to stay alive.
• Scorched emotions burned out by the disappointment of broken promises and love gone bad and when will the day of justice finally come?
• Exhausted bodies worn out from trying to keep up with all the other skeletons in the valley.
We’ve drank from every conceivable spring to satisfy our thirst. We’ve drank from the sea of pleasure and the rivers of wealth. We’ve sipped from the fountain of passion and gulped from the spring of material possessions.
But it was all like drinking salt water. It all left us thirstier and more dehydrated than we were. AND OH, HOW DRY OUR LIVES CAN GET WHEN WE TRY TO SATISFY OUR THIRST WITH SALT WATER. But it’s so tempting. Because we’re so thirsty and we’re surrounded by an ocean of it and it looks so refreshing and so harmless.
Listen! If you keep on drinking salt water to satisfy your thirst, you’re going to take your place in the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel saw when the hand of the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.
But that’s just the thing isn’t it? We can’t stop drinking the very thing that kills us. An alcoholic can refuse to ever take another drink again AND STICK TO IT. A smoker can throw the pack away and NEVER PICK THEM UP AGAIN. A gambler can walk away and NEVER PLACE ANOTHER BET. But a sinner can’t quit sinning. Try as hard as you can – you can’t stop. And the harder you try to break free of sin the more you realize how hopeless it is. Like Israel, we cry out, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost; we have been clean cut-off.”
Israel may have gotten thirsty because they were prone to drink from the wrong wells. But you’ve got to say this about Israel, when they were thirsty and their lives were bone dry, they knew where to turn for relief. “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God.” (Psalm 42:1). “My soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1). “My soul thirsts for You in a parched land.” (Psalm 143:6).
Like Israel of old, the new Israel gets thirsty too, because we too drink from the wrong wells. “Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” Sounds like confession if you ask me. That’s what dry bones say with the only breath that is in them – because it’s really all that they have to say before God.
“Behold, they say…” “we are by nature sinful and unclean and we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed. We have not loved you with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” “Our hope is lost; we are clean cut off…” we justly deserve your present and eternal punishment.”
D. The Question
And now maybe we’re ready to hear the most amazing question that the Spirit of the Lord puts to the prophet in this valley of dry bones. “Son of man, can these bones live?” “Son of man, can these bones live?”
How would you have answered that question?
E. I Thirst
One Israelite in particular spoke up for all of us dry boned skeletons when He cried out to God, “I Thirst.” And God heard His cry. And He made “the stone that the builders rejected” THE ROCK from which flows ‘LIVING WATER.’ “And that rock was Christ.” (1Cor. 10:4). And out of His side flowed water – ‘living water’ and ‘life giving water’ that revives the bone dry and weary soul. Enough water to give LIFE TO THE DEAD, not only for all Israel, but FOR ALL NATIONS – all from that ONE ROCK.
To the Israel of old, through His prophets of old, the cry went out, “Come, everyone who thirsts! Come to the waters and drink. ” (Is. 55:1) But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son who says, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:38).
Pointing to the salt water that we drink, Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.” Then pointing to Himself He says, “But whoever drinks of the water that I give Him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14).
Cool, clear refreshing water for the parched soul. Bubbling up, splashing around, running over the sides of the Baptismal font. Giving life to the dead, refreshment to the weary, contentment to the restless, and peace to all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
“Son of man, can these bones live?” Don’t answer that question, because you will never comprehend the depths of the love of God FOR YOU that goes into that question. “Thus says the Lord God, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.”
This is nothing other than a resurrection of the dead – in both soul AND BODY. “And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you and you shall live.” And all God’s dry boned skeletons together say, “I BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY AND THE LIFE EVERLASTING.”
And rising from the battlefield on which we died or the cemetery where we were buried or wherever the dust of our body may be when our Lord comes again, we shall see, FACE TO FACE, the One whose tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, whose strength was dried up like a piece of broken pottery, who cried out, “I thirst,” who’s side was opened that living water might flow out over us – all so that we might live.
In his Revelation, St. John sees Jesus and hears Him say, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Rev. 21:6; 22:7b.)
“Son of man, can these bones live?” Dry bones like these – all it takes is for a wind to blow over them and they turn to dust that is swept away. But God knows what to do with ‘dust’ and how to bring life out of ‘dust.’
“Then the Lord God formed the man of DUST FROM THE GROUND and breathed into his nostrils the ‘wind’ of life. And the man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7)
“And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind…” The Holy Spirit breathed His life giving breath on Israel on the day of Pentecost and 3000 dry boned lives come to life in one day – “a vast army.”
The Holy Spirit is still BREATHING OUT His life giving breath over parched and dry lives through the Word preached – and we are refreshed; poured out over weary souls through the Sacraments administered – and we are renewed.
“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Behold, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.”