The enigmatic poet Emily Dickinson’s famous words are appropriate for today's reading from Ezekiel:
Tell the truth, but tell it slant
Success in circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise
A lightening to the children eased
With explanation kind
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind
“Tell the truth, but tell it slant…” is Dickinson’s prescription for a humanity that truly has trouble bearing too much reality, at least all at once.
And, Beloved, let’s be honest: there is tons of heavy truth in these days of the global pandemic. Heavy truth is the root cause of why, throughout history, we humans have destroyed those who tell too much truth.
In ancient days they called them “prophets.” They were truth-tellers, not predictors of the future. And not priests, either. Just being a priest doesn't make you a truth-teller.
Ezekiel was a priest who took on the role of being a prophet, being a truth-teller. It took a lot of courage, intention, and risk since prophets have to speak truth to powers that don't want to hear it.
And the book of Ezekiel is one of powerful truth-telling, using allegory to speak to Israel in a time of great confusion.
In today's passage, Ezekiel stands over this valley of dry bones as God tells him to proclaim more truth - this time to the bones and to the wind, an alliance between the human and the elemental, to show God's work in the world.
In these days of confusion and chaos, we need some truth-telling. Perhaps there's a call to be honest and careful about human touch with COVID-19 spreading like wildfire. Or a time to remind ourselves that viruses don't have nationalities, that this is not a "foreign" virus, and we must resist language that pits humans against each other, especially in a time of crisis.
New life will come for the world, but we are called to practice caution in these days - and that's a very tough truth, especially for those who really need a human touch these days: the lonely, the stigmatized, the sick.
So maybe some truth-telling today might name that, in this time of social distancing, we must find safe ways to reach out to those who already feel distant. That’s some deep truth.
Deep truth-telling can change things, by God.
It’s even been known to make things that were once dead alive again.
Just ask the Valley of the Dry Bones.
Thanks to Pastor Tim Brown who is writing "Hunger Sermon Starters" for Lent and from whom most of this is borrowed.