The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” (Ezekiel 37:1 – 3)
If you were to ask me where I was at nine a.m. on November 13th, I could tell you. I was gowned and masked and peering through a window into the delivery room at Palmerton District Hospital. My wife was in that room and my daughter Beth was about to be born by C-section! Dr. Vanner, the delivery doctor in charge, had no place for an antsy father on his delivery team, so I was relegated to an outer room where I could watch from a distance. In spite of my distance from the delivery room, I still had to wear all the prescribed hospital garb. So there I was, feeling much like the second-string goalie at a hockey game...all dressed up but not in the game. The only consolation was I could take pictures from outside the delivery room.
I soon learned why the doctor was hesitant to have me in the delivery room... complications can arise during birth. When they finally managed to coax Beth out of the womb, I noticed she was a deathly ashen color. She wasn’t breathing! They didn’t tell Sue this of course, and she couldn’t see what was happening because her view was blocked by a curtain around her waist. I could see, however, and realized there was a problem so I was panicked enough for the both of us.
A nurse brought Beth over to a table right underneath the window and I watched as she began to work on her. She used a suctioning device to clear her airway. No change. I couldn’t watch anymore, so I retreated to the water fountain out in the hallway, took off my mask and got a sip of water. I was feeling a bit light-headed but knew I had to get back in there so I headed back to the window. I was hoping the drama was over by then – sort of like when you head out for popcorn during the scary part in a horror movie, but not so. Beth was still ashen-colored and not moving...precious seconds were ticking by like hours.
Finally, there was a cry, and some wiggling, and Beth’s tiny body slowly transformed from ashen gray to a vibrant pink color. I breathed, too. Everything was going to be OK. The nurse cleaned up Beth, bundled her up and brought her over to her mom, who was oblivious to the entire crisis. It was at this point I realized I hadn’t taken a single photograph! (and kind of glad I didn’t).
The birth of Beth is the closest I’ve come to experiencing resurrection. True, she was never really dead, but neither was she fully alive. She was hanging in the balance between life and death because she hadn’t received the breath of life. We all need the breath of life in order to survive. When it finally came to her the transformation was remarkable.
Resurrection is the theme of today’s passage in Ezekiel. The prophet is given a vision from God. The spirit of the Lord transports Ezekiel into a valley of dry bones. Everywhere he looks there are human remains ‒ hipbones, jawbones, skulls, ribs, tibia and fibula...all as dry as dust. Not an ounce of life in the entire valley. And the Lord says to Ezekiel: “Mortal, can these bones live?” It’s a theological question God is asking. Can these dead bones be resurrected into living, breathing human beings again? If the answer is no, then there’s no real hope for humanity...we live out our days and that’s it. But if the answer is yes, then hope abounds because death does not have the final word!
Ezekiel is a good Presbyterian ‒ he comes down somewhere in between with his answer. “O Lord God, you know.” Well, God does know; the God who created the world and all that is in it, does know.
The God who established a nation of people from an aged barren couple, does know. The God who led that nation from slavery to the Promised Land knows whether there is hope for dead bones.
The dead bones he’s referring to, of course, are Israel’s. Their land was plundered by a foreign army. The temple was destroyed and the people were dragged away to exile in Babylon where their souls withered and died. They saw no hope for themselves as a nation anymore. They were without a future. “Mortal, can these bones live?”
After answering the question, Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the bones. So he tells them that the Lord God will cause breath to enter them and they will live! So Ezekiel prophesized as commanded, and suddenly there is a great rattling as bones comes together and then sinews, then flesh and skin to cover them. But they were still lifeless bodies. So the Lord told him to prophesy to the breath. Tell the four winds to blow into these bodies the breath of life. And so he did and the bodies received breath and stood up and were alive again ‒ a vast multitude of living breathing people! Resurrection!
Now most commentators remind us that Ezekiel’s vision of resurrection is metaphorical not physiological. The dry bones represent the dusty sense of hopelessness of the exiles in Babylon. True; but it is noteworthy that Ezekiel based this political hope for Israel upon a more fundamental hope of the resurrection of the dead. His message of this passage is: if God can raise human bones to new life, surely he can lift Israel from exile to a freedom! So physiological resurrection is foundation of all forms of resurrection! But Ezekiel’s point is that it’s completely and utterly dependent upon God. It is outside human powers because life requires ruach ‒ the breath of life, which comes from God alone. And rauch no great challenge for God, because this is something God breathes into each of us when we’re born.
Can these bones live? The question is posed again when Jesus’ friend, Lazarus died. His family called for Jesus to come when he was sick because they knew Jesus was able to heal people. But Jesus didn’t come and now it was too late ‒ Lazarus died and was in the grave four days before Jesus ever gets there. So what about Lazarus? Can these bones live? “Well sure,” says Martha, “he’ll rise in the resurrection on the last day.” Not very hopeful, is it? If you put resurrection off far enough it becomes so distant that it holds no real hope for the present. It’s just some detached belief. I hope some day I’ll win the lottery!
Jesus isn’t satisfied with her answer so he says, “Martha, I am the resurrection and the life.” In other words, I’m not some distant future hope, I’m a present hope... “Do you believe this?” Finally she speaks words of true faith: “Yes Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
And with that Jesus calls Lazarus from the dead. He raises him from the dead, then and there! Our lord offers resurrection not at some time in the distant future but right now! Do you believe this? Do you?
So tell me... where are the dry bones in your life? Where is it that you need to be transformed by the breath of God? Because God is willing to breathe into us and fill us with life anew! Resurrection life is ours for the asking.
My daughter was ashen-gray, lying lifeless on that table in the delivery room. Then God filled her with the breath of life and she was transformed in into a wiggly, crying, pink baby. Alive. This afternoon some of you will see just how much life the spirit has put into her as she plies, jettes and fouettes herself across the stage. Resurrection is real and God offers it here and now. These bones can live!