CAN THESE BONES LIVE?
September 11 is why Easter matters. When God picked up Ezekiel and dropped him in a valley of dry bones, Israel was reeling from their September 11...only theirs was much worse. On Israel's September 11, which happened in 586 BC, thousands of people had been killed by the armies of Babylon. But Babylon didn't leave it at that. The entire city of Jerusalem was burned to the ground...even the Temple built by King Solomon...and all the leaders and skilled workers of the city were taken into exile.
They took the king and the entire government; they took the actors and entertainers, singers dancers, and painters. They took the carpenters, the cloth weavers, the tailors, the engineers, the teachers, the farmers...they took any person who could possibly be useful and marched them all off to live and work for Babylon. Those who were left...those who could learn no craft, those that were too old, those that were too young, the sick, the disabled, all of those were either killed or left amidst the smoldering ruins to survive however they could. Our September 11 was child's play compared to the Babylonian siege and exile.
"Mortal, can these bones live?" You have to wonder. We all wonder. We wondered that about New York, and as the economic reverberations echoed across the country we wondered that about America. We wondered that about the New York City Fire Department and we wondered that about families who lost loved ones in the rubble. "Mortal, can these bones live?" We wonder that a lot about ourselves. When we lose a job, when our child dies, when someone says, "cancer," when our spouse slams the door, beats us bloody, or draws only one last breath; when we are ravaged by drugs or alcohol, when the child we nursed says, "I hate you," when a friend betrays us, when we hear a prison door clank behind us, when we are molested by someone we trust..."Mortal, can these bones live?"
You can get a lot of answers to that question, depending on who you ask.. I don't know why you came here this morning, but I came here to tell you God's answer to that question. "Mortal, can these bones live?" You bet your boots they can. It happened sometime between Saturday night and that first Easter Sunday morning, and it happens now--every day around the globe when the breath of God enters somebody's valley of dry bones.
"Suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude." Mortal, can these bones live? By the power of God all things are possible.
When I read the Bible, there are two things that seem abundantly clear. The first is that God is defined as the living God. When Moses asked what God's name was, the answer God gave was, "I am." The God who is...the ever-present tense. God was not born, God does not die..the living God. Idols of wood and stone are nothing. If you can burn it in the fire, if you can kill it...it is not God. It might be a sacred or holy thing, but it is not God. By definition, God is the one who lives and never dies.
The other main thing we learn about God in Scripture is that God loves us and all of creation so much that God wants to jump right in and experience it with us. From the very first pages where God bends over Adam and breathes life into him, God has been eager to participate in the physical stuff of history, trying to keep us from filling our valleys with dry bones. "Don't do that!" said God. But we did. "Don't kill, don't steal, love God with everything you've got, don't lie about your neighbors and don't be jealous about what they have. Treat your family right, take care of the poor, take some time off and rest, don't cheat. If you keep to those simple rules, said God, you will live. We didn't. Sin continued, and bones continued to pile up in the valleys. Try as we might, we never could seem to get it right. We looked on our valleys, and we cried out to God. The cry of a baby boy on Christmas morning was God's response.
Jesus is not some second string deity...Jesus is the one, the only, the living God, taking on the flesh of humanity. That is the beginning of the answer to the question: "Mortal, can these bones live?" These bones of mine can live because God decided to live in them, and you can't kill God. God's life on earth was not easy, and the worst death that the culture could devise was waiting for him. But God endured it. God did not cut out when the going got rough. God literally hung in there until the end...to experience what we experience...to die as we die...to take a human body to the grave with the fullness of God in it so that the fullness of God could blow the lid off of death once and for all.
Jesus was God's way of saying, "I'm tired of being separated from my creation by the effects of sin. I'm tired of having the creatures to which I've given the breath of life die and be away from me. I love them too much to see them always hurting when they look at the valley of dry bones. What they have done no longer matters. It is forgiven, and as often as the valley fills with bones, that's how often I will bring them to life. Because I live, they too shall live. I am the living God and in me they, too, shall live and move and have their being.. And that is exactly what happened. God took a human body from birth to the grave, precisely so that human bodies might live. Only God could have done it, because only God could not stay dead. God is the only living one...the only eternal one...so only God could bestow eternity on something else.
Some people want to say that resurrection is only some sort of spiritual metaphor. Well, maybe they're right, but it's not what you would come to expect from reading the Bible. The God of the Bible is intimately and physically involved in human history to the point of actually becoming human and redeeming human flesh and blood. You can believe that or not...it's your choice...but the proclamation of Christians that "God is love" rings hollow if that love decides not to bother with the real stuff of history and the things we actually experience in the flesh.
I am here on Easter morning to say that God came in the flesh, died in the flesh, and rose in the flesh because real love could do nothing different. God had seen over and over how human beings had found themselves in a valley of dry bones. God had seen the cruelty and anguish of war. God had seen mothers sobbing over children whose lives had been taken by disease. God saw the indignities suffered by the blind and the lame, had heard the mournful wailing at a funeral, had winced when the death of a loved one caused the person left behind to stop living themselves. "Can these bones live?"
God showed Ezekiel the answer that God was planning. Love had indeed been moved by the pain and the violence and the hurt and the tears; and Love was going to do something about it. Those bones could not live on their own, but help was on the way. "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they might live." Wind, breath, and spirit are the same word in Hebrew...Ruach...the rushing wind that blew until bones rattled, the breath that entered Adam, and the spirit that hovered over the waters of Creation are all the same word...the ruach, the Spirit of God. The Spirit of the living God gave life to the dry bones. The Spirit of the living God brought the body of Jesus up from the tomb. The Spirit of the living God is ready to dwell in any human body that will consent to have it there, so that every single person has the opportunity to have life and have it forever.
That's what Easter is about. It is God's resounding answer to the question, "Can these bones live?" It is God's answer to New York City. It was and still is God's promise to Israel, and I believe it is also God's answer to Arafat and the Palestinians. It is God's answer to the wars of the world and the battles of our heart. It is God's reassurance when we stand at a grave; it is God's comfort as we face death ourselves. "Can these bones live?" Not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit of God, there is no bone so dry that it cannot live again.
Easter is the promise to us that God is bigger than our bone-filled valleys, no matter how dry and dusty they have become. When you haven't spoken to a family member for twenty years, when your retirement account is embezzled and your life's savings runs out before your life does; when the dog dies and the car engine explodes and the septic system backs up into the house in the same week; when your best friend dies; when nobody will acknowledge you exist and the ones who do hate you for it; even when the only hope you ever had is nailed to a cross on a hill and is as plainly dead as anybody can get...don't give up.
Wait just a little while longer...pray...look...and listen. Over there.. Did I see a leaf move with a bit of wind? Did I feel a bit of air on my cheek? A small thing...not more than a child's breath...but still... And is that a noise? Just something in the distance....a rattling perhaps? Movement? Surely not...nothing moves in my life anymore. But still...what is that? Could anything be alive in that dry valley? Yes. God is alive in that valley because our God is the living God, the God that cannot die. There will be streams in the desert, life out of death. It is the promise of Easter. The gift is free, but the promise must be claimed. The Spirit must be invited.
Are you tired of looking at a valley of dry bones? Does it seem beyond hope? Then prophesy to the bones and say to them, "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord."
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
© 2002, Anne Robertson
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