Can These Bones Live?
Can These Bones Live?
The fifth Sunday of Lent turns to face the question before us head on. We know that a death is coming and our readings from Ezekiel and John confront the subject of death straight on, not shying away from the pain of death but allowing us to focus on how God works even in the most trying of circumstances.
Scripture: Ezekiel 37: 1-14 and John 11: 1-45
“Mortal, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3a)
“I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” (Ezekiel 37: 5b)
“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.” (Ezekiel 37: 9)
“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:14)
“Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (John 11:3)
“Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus…” (John 11:5)
“Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved … Jesus began to weep.” (John 11:33, 35)
“I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.” (Ezekiel 37:12)
“Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it … ‘Take away the stone’ … ‘Lazarus come out!’ The dead man came out…” (John 11:38, 39, 43-44)
Our two passages today speak to God’s great purpose in creation. Life and if I may be so bold, life abundant.
God takes discarded bones and breaths them back to life. God takes that which is empty and barren and fills it with life. Can these bones live? God says yes! Yes, these bones can live. Your bones, the bones of this church. The bones of this community of faith, can they live? God says I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
In C.S. Lewis’s allegorical Christian novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the lion Aslan is the Christ-figure, and in order to reanimate the creatures who have been turned to stone by the White Witch, Aslan breathes on them. Also, taken together, Ezekiel 37 and John 11 echo the two kinds of creative power God exhibits in the creation stories: breathing into the human [Genesis 2] and speaking creation into being [Genesis 1, see also John 11:43].) (Illustration from Cameron Howard – God and the Infinite Void – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary)
Our passages from Ezekiel and John talk about life, death, and life after death. They deal with the reality and the pain of death. They encompass pain, suffering, and questions of purpose. These readings are very much Lent readings. We may not realize it or ponder it, but Lent is a season of death and as we approach Holy Week it is important that we focus on that. Not only does Lent end with the death of Jesus, but the season itself represents a death within ourselves as we shed what once was and deepen our walk of faith with Christ.
Our passage from John’s gospel is an emotional text. We hear of the great love that Jesus held for Lazarus. It is repeated several times for us. We experience the depth of emotion that Jesus has for his friends. We are told several times that Jesus was greatly disturbed and deeply moved. We witness Jesus crying.
Additionally, this passage demonstrates the range of love that Jesus has for his friends and I believe the love that he has for us. It is deeply moving. Here we see a very human Jesus, full of a range of emotions. A Jesus we can connect with and understand relationally. All of this embedded in a story surrounded in death.
There are a lot of ways we can talk about death. Truth is, we don’t like to talk about it. It’s a bit of a taboo subject. Depressing, morose, and full of sadness. I will confess that I value the opportunity to talk with families when their loved ones have passed away. To hear stories of lives lived, it is a great privilege and honour.
From time-to-time death will enter into our sphere. Whether because we are experiencing it through the death of a loved one or through the media. William Shatner—a.k.a. Captain Kirk from Star Trek —has been making the news lately because of his frank talk about death: both his own mortality and the prospect of the earth’s destruction. This newfound interest in taking up what is often a taboo subject seems to stem, at least in part, from the trip to space he took aboard Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin New Shepard rocket in 2021. Upon his return from that voyage, a very emotional Shatner reflected, “You look down, there’s the blue down there and the black up there … there is Mother Earth and comfort, and there is, is there death? I don’t know, but is that death? Is that the way death is?”
Shatner’s questions aren’t new. These are questions humanity has been asking through the ages. What is death, can we understand it? What happens afterwards? We understand dying, but do we understand death?
“I know that there can be no resurrection without death first. But the “something more” in the appointed texts for this week is not about me or the particularities of my afterlife. The something more in Ezekiel 37 and John 11 is the power of God to move the world in the direction of life: toward hope and restoration, toward a world infused with the breath of God. If we pay attention, then with God’s help we will see and know—in Scripture and in the life that teems around us—the glory of God.” (Cameron Howard – God and the Infinite Void – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary)
I don’t know what happens when we die. I really don’t. The blackness of space is foreign to me, it seems to be void and empty. It is at this time unknowable. But I know that God created the whole cosmos and called it very good. Though death also appears to be the void and what happens when we die is a question that will continue to confront and confound us. A question which will continue to instill fear and wonder.
What I do know is that God will breath into us and we shall live.
I know that the voice of Jesus echoes in my life and it says, “Come out!” His voice enlivens me and gives me faith. It fills me with purpose.
While I cannot know what happens when the last breath leaves my body, I know what I believe, I know what my faith tells me, that God has promised good for me. That the very breath, the very Word of God, causes me to pause and look about with wonder at the life I find all around me. For that I give God thanks and praise. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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