Sunday 2 April 2017 – Passion Sunday
Dead bones live
O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. Psalm 130:7
O God, the One who breathes life into dead bones,
pouring forgiveness, love and hope into those who cry to you.
Breathe over us and empower us by your Spirit
that we might know life and peace again.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who called his friend Lazarus back from the grave,
and in the power of the Spirit who dwells in us. Amen.
We’re in the midst of chapters full of the phrase, ‘The Word of the Lord came to me.’ There are instructions to prophesy and judgements to deliver to a sinful people. But always weaving through is the promise of redemption.
Here, Ezekiel is taken by ‘the hand of the LORD’ to the middle of a valley full of bones. As a priest for whom dead bodies are unclean, the experience must have been shocking.
Then God asks Ezekiel if the bones – said to be ‘very dry’ (v2), can live. In Israel’s history there were a few stories of people returning to life (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37; 13:20-21) but instead of replying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ Ezekiel humbly says ‘O Lord GOD, you know.’ Then God tells him to prophesy to them.
Three times the LORD asks Ezekiel to prophesy. Divine and human cooperation bring about a remarkable regeneration. Firstly the bones are re-knitted with sinews, then flesh and skin cover them (7-8). Then a new breath gathers in from the four directions and returns to them (9-10).
The Hebrew ruach used here can be translated as ‘breath,’ ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’ (cf Gen 1:2). They stand before the prophet, a vast multitude. Finally the living bodies are gifted hope and return (11-13). God’s own spirit is placed within them and God promises to place them on their own soil (14). These acts affirm God’s word; God’s promise is not empty but fulfilled.
This vision promises to reverse physical, relational and spiritual death as dead, disconnected, and dry bones are brought to life.
The psalm's title reads: ‘Waiting for divine redemption: A song of Ascents.’
The speaker is caught up in ‘the depths’ (1), conscious of ‘inquity’ – sin, evil or wickedness. But in the midst of a cry for help and forgiveness is a sense of preparedness to wait for the One who can bring redemption, whose word is hope. And it is possible to wait ‘more than those who watch for the morning' (6).
In Te Reo the word often translated ‘grace’ or mercy’ is ‘atawhai.’ ‘Ata’ means ‘the dawn.’ ‘Whai’ means ‘to chase after,’ ‘to follow,’ or ‘to receive.’ Whai contains both seeking (cf v1) and reception (cf v5). The arrival of dawn begins with light just touching the sky, a deeply poignant moment, when the earth and all that is in it pauses and waits for the light and hope of a new day.
For the Psalmist – as Ezekiel witnessed – it is God who brings ‘atawhai’ through his ‘steadfast love’ and ‘great power to redeem’ (7).
As we as individuals or as the church find ourselves in times of waiting for forgiveness, hope or redemption in dryness, disconnection or decline it is well for us to remember that God will breathe mercy and life.
It is for us to seek God and prepare ourselves to receive, mindful that redemption may come offering unexpected visions and an invitation to co-create realities beyond our current ability to see.
In Romans – Paul’s grand treatise on the story of God’s salvation work across thousands of years of Israel’s history, through Jesus Christ, and now for the whole world – the ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’ are contrasted, where ‘flesh is death’ but ‘the Spirit is life and peace.’
Just as the bones in the valley were nothing without the spirit breathed into them, life is not to be found in a focus on ‘things of the flesh’(5) because for Paul that is to deny life and instead choose sin and death.
But because of Christ’s work in dying and rising it is now possible to live, even in our mortal bodies, infused with the Spirit of God, raised spiritually, relationally and physically to life. Dead bones live because of the work of God – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Will we accept this and set our minds on the Spirit?
This truth is powerfully told in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, at the beginning of a week that will end in the most significant death and resurrection event history will ever experience.
In this story we get to see not only struggle, misunderstanding and disbelief, but also the faith of humankind in the face of death and loss, dead bones and the tomb. We also observe the divine grief of Christ over the deathly consequences of a sin-laden world, before he reveals God’s resurrection power.
The Passion is woven through this story and anticipated within it.
Jesus, loves this man Lazarus and his two sisters (5) but decides to hang back when news comes of his grave illness. (John’s Jesus often knows more than those around him (4).)
He tells a cryptic parable about light and darkness, day and night, to the disciples concerned about Jesus’ reception in Judea (cf John 1 and Ps 130).
Martha's care for her brother, and faith in her friend leads to possibly the most profound statement Jesus ever makes: ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ with its strong echoes back to the God who said ‘I am who I am’ to Moses (Ex 3:14).
Now we see who would demonstrate that power Ezekiel saw: to bring dead bones to life.
And it is Martha in John’s Gospel who makes the great declaration of faith in the divinely-human lifebringer, Jesus: ‘Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God’ (27).
Her sister Mary, weeping, deeply disturbs Jesus and moves him to tears (33-35)…and to a miraculous act: a stinking four-days-dead man, a pile of disconnecting bones, is raised to life.
The God of Ezekiel, living in their neighbourhood in Jesus Christ, performs both an affirmation of prophecy as well as a prophetic act. Redemption is on the move and it touches every part of life.
Deeply loved, but dead bones can now live. By the power of the Spirit of God in Christ.
And in a week, the world will never be the same again.