Pretty much every day this week I’ve watched at least one of the Harry Potter Movies. The syfy channel has been running an almost nonstop marathon and I have been their top viewer. For some reason the one that has been on the most when I have been paying attention has been the third movie - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In this movie, as Harry returns for his third year at Hogwarts, he faces the looming threat of attack by the escaped prisoner Sirius Black. Black, as Harry finds out was a very close friend to his parents. So close that he is Harry’s godfather. But Black has been in Azkaban for betraying and killing Harry’s parents and others in service to Lord Voldemort.
As it happens, when Harry finds himself standing in front of Sirius Black, Black is the epitome of the mass murderer Harry has been told. Standing in his prison stripes with black, rotting teeth and a maniacal smile, and eyes that hold the excited anticipation of another attack.
When you see him, you see a man that after years in prison doesn’t seem to embody a person but the madman that people call him.
This came to my mind when I was reading through this passage of the valley of dry bones. This weird vision that Ezekiel tells about where God picks him up and takes him into this dry, desolate, creepy valley that is filled with dry bones, bones that have not experienced life in a very long time. And I can only imagine what’s going through his mind at this point sitting surrounded by all this death. And what I imagine is that it’s hard not to focus on anything other than death.
The sight of it, the smell of it, and the wonder of it. Even as right before his eyes these dry, dusty, dead bones grow tendons and ligament that bind them together. As they form muscle and flesh, and as that muscle and flesh are enveloped in skin.
But then it stops and Ezekiel notices. All of the death that he saw is now physical life standing in front of him but it still has no breath, no spirit, no soul.
The breath, spirit and soul, those things that make life unique, creative and vibrant - those need a little extra push.
Which is how it was with Sirius. His demeanor changes on a dime the moment he is face to face with his old friend, Remus Lupin and the child of his best friends, his godson Harry. We find out that he wasn’t a mass murderer but that he was framed. We see his loyalty to his friends and in all of this, we see Sirius and Harry bonding. These two characters who lives have been defined by the death that’s around them are given new breath and a new spirit when they find connection with one another.
In order to come back to life, to revive to the good natured friend and lovable Sirius, he needed that reminder of who he was.
Quarantine can kind of feel like this valley of dry bones. This time in which we’ve all been cut off from one another physically. We don’t get to have the same experiences that we’re used to and on top of it we worry about what our future will be in this new world. Will we still be who we’ve always been? Will those relationships with friends, classmates, coworkers, and loved ones be able to withstand all of this?
But these are similar questions that God is answering in this text. The Israelites are stuck in exile. Their physical home desolated and destroyed - their society co-opted. Their lives as they knew them are dead and gone.
But God is here to say that as many dry bones surround us, we still have hope because we are resilient.
The Israelites carried exile with them. It forms who they are in the world. The character of Sirius Black did the same. His time living in torture in Azkaban was not forgotten - because trauma is real.
Friends, though we don’t know the specifics of what the future holds, I can tell you we will take it with us. It has and will continue to shape us, our communities and our futures. And while that can bring fear, stress and anxiety -let’s try and focus on how it can bring hope - because God is standing right next to us showing us who we are and helping us to see it too. God is showing us that even the most desolate and bleak situations can have a future with hope.
Text: Mark 4:35-41