I never considered myself particularly nerdy when I was growing up. But when I was in seminary my roommates introduced me to something I had never heard of before: Doctor who.
Doctor Who is a long-running British show no it started over 50 years ago. The basic concept is there is an alien who happens to be a time Lord one who keeps track of time across universes, is, and he travels through time and space having adventures with generally a human companion, Inside his spaceship and time machine called a tardis that’s has been stuck and it’s cloaking as a British Police Box. Now you might be wondering how a show could be on for over 50 years. Well, one of the things about time lords is that they can regenerate and have a new face. so every couple of years, the Doctor gets a new face, And a new actor can carry on the tradition. Most people I meet who are even a tiny bit older than me, Their favorite doctor is the fourth Tom Baker best known for his scarf.
People who watch what is now called Classic Doctor Who remember it as particularly campy is campy kind of made for children, And pretty low budget where is some Sometimes it looks like the evil villain is wearing a sock over its face other times they look like they’re covered in aluminum foil. There are it was a pretty large gap from what is called classic coup to the newer shows. The 1st Doctor I was introduced to were numbers 9 and 10. The surly alien in the leather, and the slight guilt riddle one in the trench coat. Remember same alien different face.
The Doctor is from the planet Gallifrey. It’s a place the Doctor would return from time to time in the classic show, but we learn fairly quickly Is that the reason he is so unhappy, and cynical, and not really interested in a new human companion, is because Gallifrey is no more.
They say the Great Time Wars spanned 30,000 years, because time travel, and crossed cosmos. Entire civilizations were lost, destroyed, being whipped out of existence.
The Last Great Time War with the Daleks. Now to be fair the villain of this war are, of course, not the Time Lords but the Daleks who are basically garbage cans with a plunger and a hand mixer, who for most of their existence on the show couldn’t get up stairs, but somehow still intend on destroying everything. In time, the fighting that had been out there, had come home. Gallifrey was being overrun, cities were falling, families are being lost. And in a desperate act of hopelessness, to save all galaxies from the evil of the Daleks, so they wouldn’t destroy other planets, the Doctor plans to do the unthinkable: destroy the Daleks, and his who planet in the process, leaving the Doctor the last of his kind.
Imagine that hopelessness.
The people of Judah had known trouble and conflict. They had seen the northern kingdom of Israel be destroyed wiped off the face of the Earth, the people sent into exile said to be lost for all time.
The people of Judah had known wars their city had been under siege and yet they survived. They had seen other armies come in and March. At this point in our reading, they had been overtaken come taken, conquered, their king had been exiled their leadership had been removed and removed they had been occupied. Ezekiel would have known would have understood what if had cave experienced all of this. Ezekiel had been born into a Priestly family. He would have been training to become a priest on his 30th birthday and instead, he became one of the 1st exiles to Be taken from Jerusalem and brought to Babylon. Instead, sitting by the Euphrates in Babylon, Ezekiel began to have visions. Warning the people Of what would happen if they did not change. That destruction would be coming. Ezekiel had a lot of visions, comma it’s where much of the book of revelation is taken from and its visions and Imagery. Ezekiel also expressed breast what God was telling him and what is called sign Acts. One time, he laid in the middle of the street On his side eating food that he had cooked over the Feces of the passing animals to represent the unpleasant food that they were going to eat if they did not return to worship God correctly. For a year he did that for a year.
There was a moment of hope. The puppet king that Babylon had installed decided he didn’t want to be a puppet king anymore. He rebelled against Babylon he brought people in with him. And for a moment I’m sure there was hope that they would be free, that Babylon would be removed, Hope from the exiles that they might be able to return home. But a messenger came from Jerusalem and Babylon thwarted their rebellion, Exiled more people, tore down the city walls, left the temple in ruins.
Imagine. Imagine what it must feel like To have heard prophets proclaim The rebellion would win, that she would only be and Babylon but a little while, that you would make it home and now home is no more. Imagine what it must be like to Have lost your last bit of hope.
But I wonder if maybe you don’t have to imagine. I’m sure there are some Here who have walked long and lonely roads of Loss and grief, roads of sadness and failure, Roads of disappointment and hopelessness. There might be some of you who have even wondered if there is life beyond this moment.
Maybe for you it wasn’t a loss of everything, maybe it felt like it though. Maybe a relationship or a job, maybe The loss of your health or your faith. Maybe you’ve wondered if you’ll be able to get up again. If you will be able to love again. If you’ll be able to carry on. Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.”
That is where I think the exiles from Judah living in the Babylonian Empire Were probably feeling. That they were grieving what could have been what should have been what they thought would be that would be. There was no future they could see now that there was no Jerusalem.
This is where God scoops up Ezekiel and places him in a low place filled with bones so dry sun-bleached cracked. Spread out across the field by animals and wind and weather. And God asks Ezekiel if these dry and cracked and broken and spread out could ever live. And I think Ezekiel’s answer if it were less and in Bible language or less reverent language, “I don’t know. I don’t know God, but I bet you do.” Or maybe he said, “why don’t you just tell me.” They seem like the words of someone who is almost out of hope.
And God’s answer to Ezekiel doesn’t really make any sense. God’s answer to Ezekiel Is to proclaim life to the bones. God’s answer to Ezekiel is to proclaim hope and life over the bones to speak it into existence. God could have done it by god’s self. God doesn’t need Ezekiel to make life come. God seemed to understand that for Ezekiel it was going to be important for him to speak hope. For him to speak life. For him to be an active participant and the revealing of the hope of God and a place that is completely hopeless. Is the revealing of life in a place where life had long abandoned.
And despite the fact that he had his doubts, and despite the fact that it didn’t make any sense, and despite the fact that any reasonable person would have answered “no, no these bones cannot have life,” Ezekiel takes a deep breath And says to the bones “Hear The Lord’s word: god proclaims I am about to put breath in you and you will live.”
And the bones began to move and rattle and shake. Imagine the rockets as they lift themselves up rap it’s themselves up rattling and beating against each other and maybe they start to fly across The Valley finding the ones to which they match, Assembling themselves like a creepy Halloween puzzle or an old doctor’s office Skeleton.
And hold the bones together tendons and ligaments start to form and muscles built on the bones, Organs and heart and veins and blood all prepared to be life. Skin and eyes and fingernails as they stand before Ezekiel waiting for life.
Now the word for wind and breath and spirit and Hebrew is all the same word it’s ruach. So when Ezekiel prophesied to the wind, Come wind come breath come spirit into these dead bodies and let them live. And the wind and the breath and the spirit of God moved through the space and what once had been so dry so lifeless so utterly hopeless and life. They breathed, they moved, they lived.
You might know the story of Ezekiel because of the song, Dem Bones is an African American Spiritual, from the era of slavery. It, among others, are songs that were written to speak hope into a time, into oppression, into enslavement that I’m sure felt like it might be everything for always. But these songs offered hope, offered a vision of the future that was liberation, freedom, abundant life. In Bible Study this week, It was brought up how the death of the leader of a movement can feel like the death of a moment. But into the civil rights movement that seemed hopeless after the death of Dr. King was John Lewis, and John Lewis mentored generations speaking hope, passing it on from one generation to the next.
Can these bones live and God’s answer given to Ezekiel, and those enslaved, is a resounding “Yes, they can, and they do.”
I think the reason that we, society, keep going back to stories like Doctor Who, and Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, and maybe even superhero movies is that we desperately need to believe that there is hope. We need to believe that even when things look like all is lost, there might still be hope, and life, and a new wind blowing over what had once seemed dead.
We need parables of hope.
We need parables of hope when we cannot see the light, when there seems to be no laughter or joy, when the future we have planned is gone. We need parables of hope when our own bones are tired.
We need parables of hope when our communities are dwindling, when our voices have been pushed to the side, when we are overwhelmed with the needs of the world, when it seems there is nothing that can bring us together. We need parables of hope for when people come together around a mission, a cause, a vision, a force we can breathe life, call the spirit, bring winds of change.
We need Ezekiel filled with doubt and cynicism speaking the wind of God into a hopeless situation, calling the breath to what had been lifeless. We need the parable and the vision and the promise that if we speak hope, even hope filled with grief, filled with doubt, filled with all the baggage we might bring, it is the parable and the vision and the promise that God will meet us with life.
We need Ezekiel, and we need these stories, and they need to change us, encourage us to carry on another day. They give us enough hope to stand up for those on the margins of society, to stand up for those others have forgotten or chosen to forget, to speak hope for those for whom hope is a luxury that they don’t have. Our stories might give us enough hope to keep calling life in the environment, an end to destructive pipelines, proper care for creation when it seems that there will be no body willing to stand up. They give us the courage to let the four winds blow us to connections and communities that we might not normally meet, might not have found common ground with, might not have found common purpose with, and yet finding there is common breath and life.
We need Ezekiel and God in that field of bones because of a hundred moments that seem hopeless, that seem like deaths, that feel like life will never be restored to remind us that this isn’t the end, that hope can be enlivened, that life can be renewed.
Speak hope, speak spirit, speak life. Breathe hope, breathe spirit, breathe life. Can these bones live? Yes, yes, yes.