Can these dry bones come to life?

Quilt and photo by Rabbi Joanne Yochaved Heiligman
(Click on image for larger, more detailed version)

Podcast of Homily for Pentecost 2010:
Fr. Austin Fleming at Holy Family Parish, Concord

Homily for Pentecost Sunday 2010
(Scriptures for this homily: Ezekiel, Acts of the Apostles, John)

Dry bones!

Ezekiel looked in every direction and that’s all he could see:
dry bones, and oh-how-dry they were, said he, said Ezekiel.

Bones, bleached by the sun:
scattered skeletons of lives gone lifeless…

Just dry bones, no ligaments to link them,
no muscle to move them...

Disconnected dry bones, no flesh to cover them,
no skin to shape them into bodies…

Dry bones, no spirit within
willing them, breathing them to life…

Just dry bones, and oh-how-dry they were, said he, said Ezekiel.

It’s a stark, barren picture the scripture paints for us here
but it’s precisely the image we need
to begin to imagine to what the Spirit might call us
this Pentecost Sunday.

Have you ever walked on that plain of dry bones
where Ezekiel walked?

Have there been times when you felt
as dry, lifeless, immobile, as disconnected as those dry bones?

Have there been times when you have gasped
for a breath of hope’s spirit to hold you together in your flesh,
when you’ve not felt at home in your own skin?

And even if the landscapes of our own stories have never known
the drought of days so dry,
certainly we, the people of the Church, might say
with the whole house of Israel,
our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off,

cut off from what we trusted so deeply, for so long,
unsure now of where to place our hope in such dry times.

It was the Lord who asked Ezekiel,
Can these dry bones come to life?
But many are now asking that question of God and one another:

• Can the dry bones of our Catholic Church come to life again?
Will we, will the Church, survive this time of trial?
Can the scattered bones of these years of crisis come back to life?
Yes, says the Lord! He has promised and he will do it!

• Will the Lord refresh and restore the hearts of victims
whose souls and dreams and joys were deadened by their abusers?
Can their dry bones come to life?
Yes, says the Lord! He has promised and he will do it!

• Will the Lord restore the Church as a place of confidence and trust?
Can those who have discarded the dry bones of Catholicism
be inspired to new life in the Church?
Yes, says the Lord! He has promised and he will do it!

• Will the Lord restore the ways of the Church
and give the Church new muscle, new sinews, new flesh,
a new heart and a new spirit?
Yes, says the Lord! He has promised and he will do it!

When will the Lord do this?
I don’t know when the Lord will complete this work
but I trust deeply that the Lord has begun this work.
And I trust because I already hear, as do you, as did Ezekiel,
the rattling of the dry bones coming together.

The rattling of bones is, first of all,
an acknowledgment that something has died
and so the rattling we hear is an unpleasant, disturbing sound.

But the rattling of bones means also that God’s Spirit is at work,
God’s Spirit working to bring us back to life:
- to bring life to our dry, parched hearts;
- to fill those same hearts with a spirit of hope;
- and to restore our trust and confidence in the Lord
and in his body, the Church.

I’m not suggesting there's an easy way out here -
not at all!

It won’t be easy for any of us to allow the Spirit to do
what I believe the Spirit desires to do.

•It is not easy, it is painfully difficult, for the abused to find and come
to the healing and peace God so much wants them to have.

•It is not easy, it is confoundingly difficult,
for those who have lost trust in the Church
to learn to trust the Church again.

•It is not easy, it is exceedingly difficult, for the Church to open itself
to the restorative, reformative rebuilding the Spirit calls for.

•It is not easy to let the Spirit knit our bones back together,
fit us with new muscle and sinew, give us new skin in which to live,
breathe new life in us and lead us beyond the desert of dry bones
to a new Jerusalem, a Church born again of the Spirit of God.

And some might think that nothing, no one,
not even the Spirit has the desire, the will, the power
to heal and restore each of us as sons and daughters of God
and all of us as Christ’s body the Church.

The Lord’s question to Ezekiel, then, is his question to us:
"Can these dry bones come to life?"
We know the Lord's answer:
Yes! He has promised and he will do it!

What will our answer be?

The Spirit who came as a great rushing wind and as tongues of fire
on the first Pentecost will come more quietly but no less powerfully
upon us today and upon the gifts we will place on this altar.

If we believe the Spirit will make of bread and wine we offer
the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ
in the sacrifice of this Eucharist,
will we fail to believe that the same Spirit
will make of our wounds, a font of grace?
of our mistrust, a new-found hope?
of our brokenness a stronger Church,
nourished by the bread and cup of this holy table?

Will these gifts be transformed - and us who receive them, too?
Yes, says the Lord! He has promised and he will do it!

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people
and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created anew
and you shall renew the face of the earth.

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  1. For readers who were expecting there might be a podcast of my homily on this post, my best intentions were foiled by my limited techno skills! I was successful in recording half of my homily and getting it on to an mp3 widget for this post, but half a homily doesn't cut it! Back to the drawing board...

  2. An extraordinary image and a powerful homily - so much to pray about and so much to do but I do believe it will happen even if it brings us to our knees!!
    Commiserations on the thwarted mp3 attempt but you are way ahead of my technical skills so keep going and we look forward to eventual success!

  3. Excellent Fr. The typed word can be dry but your voice puts flesh on the words.
    Thank you for all you do for God's people.

  4. I hope you are right.


  5. Larry: given the text of the scripture and my reflection on it, are your words an intentional or a serendipitous pun? :-)

  6. Larry and CP- I was kind of thinking the same thing :)

    Larry, you said, "...your voice puts flesh on the words."

    just like the Holy Spirit puts flesh on the bones...

  7. Thanks Father Austin...your words help in the healing and provide hope. We trust...we believe...we pray...Veni Sancte Spiritus!


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