This is one of the few passages from Ezekiel that most of us have ever heard. It’s the story of the prophet being taken in a vision to a valley filled with dry, long-dead bones. It’s a story of God’s promised hope of resurrection, of Israel being restored, and the inspiration for the hit classic “Dem Bones.” But like any time we hear only one part of a book as big as Ezekiel, it’s always helpful to know what’s going on around it.
Ezekiel got this vision after a huge disaster—actually the biggest disaster imaginable—had happened in Judah. Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians, the Temple was burned to the ground, and the whole population was deported to Babylon, where Ezekiel was living. Four hundred fifty years of the Davidic monarchy came crashing to an end. The people’s whole world had been turned upside down. The way they were used to living was upended, undone, caput in an instant. Suddenly they had to adapt to a completely new way of living in a completely unfamiliar place.
When we were growing up, my parents bought a brand-new Apple computer. It was a big blocky thing, with that hard plastic that always makes me think of early 90’s computers, the monitor a big cube, and really, really tall keys on the keyboard that clacked when you typed. My mom did a lot of work on the computer—she was just starting to take my grandmother’s genealogy work under her wing, so she was typing up all my grandma’s handwritten notes.
Somewhere along the way, my mom got really good at typing. Like, between her and my brother, they are really, really fast typists. But with this early-90’s Apple computer, the processing speed…well, it wasn’t quite up to snuff. So my mom found it very entertaining to rapidly type out sentence after sentence, then stop and watch as the cursor raced across the screen, catching up to her already-typed letters.
We live in an age of fast things. We get our food fast—I remember the big flashing clock making sure our drive-thru time stayed under three minutes a car when I worked at Hardee’s. We get all kinds of services done in the click of a button—everything from bank transfers to whole mortgage applications can be done in an instant. We even expect our deliveries to be completed in two business days thanks to Amazon. And, in a way, I think we’ve come to expect that everything will more or less catch up to this instantaneous fulfillment.
Last week, people across the country were shocked to hear the news about the death of Kobe Bryant. It was one of those moments where people from all different stripes were united in shock and grief. He was extremely widely known—even I knew who Kobe was, and I don’t keep up with sports. There was an outpouring of mourning, people naming how he’d captured imaginations, people lifting up prayers for his family.
And then there was another reaction that came about. I started seeing it on Facebook that many people were taking the opportunity to name people who weren’t recognized by the news who had experienced tragedy. Names of people who weren’t famous but were no less tragic of losses. Now, we should never shame people for who they grieve. But the very widespread and unified grief around Kobe has shown up in other famous people as well—David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Robin Williams, Prince, and others. Society has a way of showing who is considered important.
Friends, it is the last week before everything becomes Christmas everywhere. This Thursday we’ll gather around family and friends to eat turkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing and whatever other Thanksgiving delights you enjoy, and Friday it’ll be lights and holly and carols until December 25. Which, really, is a little exciting for me, because we get to celebrate our first Christmas season with Hazel! We get to put up lights on the house, and decorate the tree, and do all the things that make the season exciting and wonderful.
So with all that to look forward to, what is up with this text? Today is Christ the King Sunday, where we finish off the church year by honoring Jesus as king, and we read about Jesus on the cross. Honestly, there are a lot of other texts I think would be appropriate for naming Jesus as King. The Wise Men bringing gifts from far away. The transfiguration. The triumphal procession into Jerusalem on a donkey maybe. Something more…kingly. But instead, we get this Good Friday text just as we’re about to enter Advent.