Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones is dramatic and compelling. The prophet is carried in a vision to a valley in which there are a host of dry bones. “Son of man,” God says to Ezekiel, “can these bones live?” He is commanded to prophesy to the bones: “hear the word of the Lord.” The dry bones are an image of the people of Israel who are dead to the living Word and Spirit of God. They are being recalled to life and purpose.
What Ezekiel faces in the proverbial valley of dry bones is exactly what every teacher, preacher, coach and leader faces. We look out and wonder: ‘is this gathering a collection of dry bones, dead and un-alive to the challenges at hand?’ How to inspire and enliven them? The story is about the principles and ideals which properly belong to our life and being at once individually and collectively. We only live when the animating principles that belong to the integrity of our institutions are alive in us. All that one can do, of course, is to proclaim them and make them known. Whether they will live in you or not says everything about you. Are you dead or alive?
The passage from Ezekiel is about that idea of principles being alive in us inwardly without which they can have no expression outwardly. The story is powerfully and colourfully told: bone upon bone, “a great rattling of bones,” and then sinew and flesh coming upon the bones. It is a wonderful image about the formation of our bodies, we might say, and yet the point is that something more is needed. We are more than our bodies, it seems. The story intentionally recalls the Genesis story of creation about God forming our humanity from the dust but expands upon it in terms of bone joined to bone along with sinew and flesh. But that is merely external. The key point in Genesis is the idea of God breathing his own spirit into our humanity so that we become living beings. And so, too, here in our being recalled to life, to living with purpose.
Ezekiel’s story is about Israel being raised back to life by God’s spirit being breathed into the dry bones. In other words, it is about Israel being recalled to the principles and ideals of the Law that properly belong to her identity and vocation. With Ezekiel there is now an emphasis upon what is no longer simply external but internal. Ezekiel argues that the Law must be engraven upon our hearts. The ideals and principles that are before us have to be realised in us. It is really a question about whether or not we are willing to let ideas live in us. It is an ancient question and one that remains for us.
In a way, the Ezekiel story shows us something of the care of God towards Israel. It reveals God as the enlivening spirit of all life but especially of our humanity. In this sense, it complements the other story which we heard in Chapel this week, the story of Christ the Good Shepherd.
The dominant icon in the Chapel is the image of Christ the Good Shepherd depicted in the central panel of the East window above the altar. It serves as a strong reminder, I think, about the radical nature of care in education. It challenges our contemporary notions of care in the therapeutic culture. It presents a much more challenging idea than simply being taken care of which renders us largely passive. Instead, it concerns the idea of sacrifice, of something moving in us inwardly that makes us truly and fully alive, something alive in us. As one of the Collects (prayers) puts it, Christ is both “a sacrifice for sin” and “an example of godly life.” The image points us to the idea of Christ’s love living in us in terms of sacrifice and service. As such it contributes to one of the great events in the School which signals the ideals of sacrifice and service so beautifully - the Cadet Church Parade on Tuesday, May 14th.
The Gospel story from John makes the essential point which is so easily forgotten and overlooked. Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd but he also teaches us exactly what that means. “The Good Shepherd,” he says, “gives his life for the sheep.” We are the sheep who have gone astray; Christ the Good Shepherd gathers us back to himself through his sacrifice. In other words, the Good Shepherd is also the Lamb of God whose life is given to us so that his life can live in us. Care that is sacrifice is about real care. It is about putting ourselves on the line for God and for one another. It is the great counter to the negative narcissisms of our current world. Such is death and resurrection; dying to ourselves in order to live for God and for others.
The image of the Good Shepherd is about our being returned to God, the source and end of all things and especially of rational creatures. His care can only live in us if we are alive to his Word and Spirit.
I invite you to the Church Parade at Christ Church, Windsor, on Tuesday, May 14th at 6:30pm. A mandatory event for students and faculty alike, it belongs to the idea of care in education, the care that challenges us about thinking and working together. More than just a pretty parade, it signals the ideals of sacrifice and service. It is about our learning to live in the care of the Good Shepherd.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy
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