Son of man, can these bones live? (Ezekiel 37:3)
This week we are enjoying a few days on the North Norfolk coast: a border land where sea, land and sky merge.
Along the shoreline at low tide, acres of mud and sand lie before us; when the tide returns much of this is submerged. While land, homes and livelihoods are washed away along the East Coast, here harbours silt up, and become farmland; then, dykes are breached and farmland becomes marsh once more. It is an ever changing scene, where boundaries prove more permeable than permanent.
Life in these coastal areas is a constant exchange between human endeavour and nature. The shoreline and its immediate hinterland are full of reminders of the power of natural forces, to overtop human control. Yet these shifting shores are also teaming with life; if only we care to look. Water shapes the environment. The challenge is to see the potential and work with nature; both in change and in continuity. As the Psalmist reminds us The earth is the Lords (Psalm 24:1) and, he might have added, ‘the sea and sky also.’
Recognising that all that we are and have is from God, and using our God given gifts in his service is the path to life in all its fullness. At first sight, Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones is quite the opposite to this picture of abundant potential. It conjures up for me a desolate place: dry, rocky and devoid of life, pile after pile of human bones; testimony perhaps to some great disaster. Surely nothing can live here. Yet, when God asks such a question it almost implies an unexpected reply. The dry bones, of course, represent Israel, God’s people. Spiritually they are the dry bones, they have turned their back on God, their worship, such as it is, is hollow. They are dead. God promises restoration, a restoration that makes his power and involvement clear, Then you shall know that I the Lord have spoken it and performed it (Ezekiel 34:14). In due time, Israel is restored, God heals their broken relationship. Once again his Spirit gives the people life, just as he promises here, and the dry bones of his people live again.
Tomorrow Mary and I will walk the shores again. As we do I will reflect on Ezekiel’s vision. Just as the waters feed this ever changing landscape and give it life, so too I am reminded that we need also the refreshing waters of the Spirit to give us true life.
Rev Philip Payne Wells next the Sea, Lent 5
The Notice Sheet for 26th March can be found here