Reading Time: 5 mins

Old Testament: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (Pentecost Sunday: Series B)

Reading Time: 5 mins

“Can these bones live?” God asks Ezekiel, challenging the prophet and all who have ever looked into the face of death, and calling for a response.

Our text for today is a vision which reminds everyone that God not only gives life but also restores life. In Him, death will not have the last word, even when life has been taken away. Our God is the God of resurrection life. He is life’s origin and its restoration. This is the perfect reading to preach for Pentecost. Life is given by the Word of God, which the Spirit uses to bring the dead back to life again.

The reading opens with Ezekiel being brought by the Spirit of God to a valley full of dry bones. The bones are the remains of God’s rebellious people who He has left for destruction on account of their sin. After the prophet walks all around these bones, God asks in verse 3a: “Can these bones live?” What could be more lifeless than dry bones?

I cannot help but be reminded of that scene in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which takes place in the graveyard just before the burial of Ophelia. While walking, Hamlet and his friend Horatio come upon a gravedigger who is preparing her grave. He has just dug up a skull. Hamlet asks whose skull it was. The man answers, “Yorick.” Hamlet takes the skull, cradling it tenderly in his hands, and lifts it to his eyes, saying, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times... Here hung those lips that I have kissed, I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs?”1 As he ponders what remains of the former court jester, a flashback shows the young Hamlet laughing at Yorick, playfully throwing his arms around him and kissing him. Then, suddenly, we are jolted back to the graveyard and the lifeless skull.

“Can these bones live?” God asks Ezekiel, challenging the prophet and all who have ever looked into the face of death, and calling for a response. Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know” (verse 3b). God does know. His answer to that question is surely life giving and Gospel indeed.

Our text has three sections: An introduction (verses 1–4), a proclamation (verses 5–10), and a teaching (verses 11–14). It might be easiest to preach two out of the three, which may be enough to do justice to the text while still having more than enough for application.

The theological confession worth exploring for our liturgical setting is that the Word of God gives life from death. To oversimplify Luther’s teaching: The Word does everything! It is the Word which is proclaimed on account of Christ. Here it would be good to explore the connection and contrast between “prophecy” as a function of the “Word” spoken and “proclamation” as a function of the “Gospel” declared. The setting of our scene is rather grim for Israel. We can compare this to an earlier scene in Ezekiel (Chapter 16) where the man of God finds the infant left for dead in a field without its umbilical cord tied. The man of God then goes on to save her life by showing her grace. Here in Chapter 37, the prophet finds Israel actually dead in a field. The reason for such carnage in Chapter 37 was Israel’s own doing. The beloved child found in the field in Chapter 16 forsook the love and grace shown her. She became arrogant in her beauty and sold that beauty and her riches to sin. By comparison, God let Israel suffer the consequences of their pride as well. It was His will to bring them to this lowest spot by Chapter 37, dead in sin and rebellion, left alone in a grave. Except, God had not forgotten the woman or Israel, and our God is a God of death and resurrection.

 God had not forgotten the woman or Israel, and our God is a God of death and resurrection.

The real Gospel connection in our reading happens when the Word of God speaks life back into His people. The proclaimed Word (Gospel) wraps them in flesh. Then the Spirit (breath) enters them through the Word proclaimed over them and, subsequently, the resurrection is like something out of the Gustave Dore engraving, “The Vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones.”[1] Connections to the Acts 2 reading for Pentecost abound. Namely, that the Spirit is poured out so the Gospel might go forth, which would be the last word, the ultimate Word spoken over God’s people.


Perhaps, a vivid illustration of the life giving, resurrection power of the Word, in contrast to “poor Yorick,” can be found in the prophet greater than Ezekiel. Indeed, the greater prophet than all prophets, who is Jesus Christ! Look at how Jesus speaks in the Lazarus story, and Lazarus goes from death to life. What Jesus did there was only a foreshadowing of what Jesus the crucified and dead One would show forth when He Himself was lifted up to resurrection life on Easter, of which the apostles proclaim, Spirit filled on Pentecost, and you experience in the waters of your baptism.

Feasibly, the best structure to get at this text would be a “Text-Application Structure.”

“This structure organizes the sermon on the basis of two experiences most parishioners have as they open up the Scriptures: a desire to understand what the text is speaking of in its own historical context and a desire to hear how God speaks through this text to shape the lives of his people today. With an eye toward these two experiences, the preacher shapes the sermon with a text-application structure.


The preacher divides the progression of the sermon into two portions. After an introduction that raises interest in the text or in a life situation for which the hearers desire a word from God, the first part of the sermon offers textual exposition for the hearers. The second part of the sermon applies the text to the hearers.


In the first section of the sermon, the preacher spends time with the text. As the preacher develops the text, he is careful to focus on those details that are important for later application of the text to the lives of his hearers. Often, the preacher will be identifying teachings of the faith within his exposition of the text that will later be used in application to the lives of the hearers.


In the second section of the sermon, the preacher examines God’s present work in the lives of the contemporary hearers. In doing this, he could be working with the teaching of the text, the function of the text, or the intention of the writer. Any of these approaches can yield fruitful results in terms of how this text functions among the hearers today. Sometimes, preachers may find it helpful to move sequentially through the four types of discourse in the tapestry of preaching as they move from text to application: Textual exposition, theological confession that names a teaching in the text, evangelical proclamation that centers the teaching in Christ for us, and hearer interpretation that names our lives in relation to that teaching.


The biggest challenges in this sermon structure are finding an appropriate balance between textual exposition and hearer application (for example, avoiding a sermon that is long on textual study and short on application) and maintaining hearer attention during a prolonged section of textual study or application.”[2]


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Ezekiel 37:1-14.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Ezekiel 37:1-14.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ezekiel 37:1-14.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!


1 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 5.1.201–9.