Thursday, March 6, 2008

Can These Bones Live?

Homily for Lent 5, Year A, 2008
Sunday, March 9th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45

“Can these bones live?”

--Ezekiel 37:3

Some time after the people of Judah were taken into captivity in 587 B.C., the prophet Ezekiel was swept up in a vision in which he was transported to a valley of dry bones – a valley where bone was piled upon bone for as far as the eye could see. It was an unimaginable sight and he stood within its midst. One can only imagine the revulsion that he felt given the palpable stench and taste of death, given the reality of the ritual impurity of the moment, and given the fearsome sight itself of bone upon bone. Frightfully, Ezekiel stood amidst the utter a reality of death itself. Could he have kept himself from weeping? What were the emotions that welled deep within his heart in that moment? He certainly knew that these bones represented the fate of his nation; he certainly knew that this vision of death was not simply a vision, but rather a manifestation of the reality faced by his people in exile. And had God forsaken them? Had God forsaken him? Was this to be the ultimate fate of the people who walked in the darkness of foreign oppression? They had certainly lost their way but they had also been escorted somewhere that they would rather not have gone. Was this to be his own fate? As the horror of the vision overwhelmed him, these words took shape within his ears, and the voice of God spoke to him, “Can these bones live?” A small voice began to form within his own breast and took shape on his own lips, “Oh Lord God, you know."

There is much to weep over in this present age, in a world filled with brokenness and despair, not to mention a church filled with brokenness and resignation over its own apparent imminent demise. Do we not feel as if we might be standing in a valley of dry bones -- bone upon bone for as far as the eye can see? Do we not feel, at times, that whether it be church or world, we have a certain helplessness and hopelessness about how things are going to unfold. Do we dare to stand against the oppressor when the oppressor seems unbeatable? Do we dare to stand against injustice when injustice appears the to have become the order of the day? Are we afraid to embrace change because all we have ever known becomes all we can ever imagine? Shall the exile be the best that we can hope for? Shall battles in court over the possession of church buildings be the best that we can offer to the world? Are we a people without voice, without form, without flesh on our bones, without the breath of life itself – a people without hope? It seems that this is how the world often sees us. Can these bones live? Oh Lord, you know.

The vision of Ezekiel is an oracle of hope. The vision of Ezekiel, though beginning in the valley of death, concludes in the Garden of Resurrection. Although Ezekiel stands in the midst of bones dried and discarded, despondent of hope, still he listens for the voice of God in the darkest and most frightful place. And that voice does indeed speak. It is a voice that speaks across the tears of a broken people and calls this lonely prophet to a new hope. "Prophesy to the bones," says the Lord. Ezekiel listens, and perhaps tentatively at first, but with increasing confidence speaks to the bones. The bones come together, bone to bone, rattling with a deafening noise. The noise is overwhelming, but do these bones yet live? Can these bones yet live? Oh Lord, you know.

At the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus was met by Martha, who laments uncontrollably, "If you'd been here my brother would not have died!" How easy it is to blame others. Sometimes the only answer to the brokenness of life, to the brokenness of the world, to the brokenness of the church, is to weep. At the tomb of his friend, Jesus wept. Over life that had departed, over lack of faith, over fear and despair, Jesus wept. In the valley of the dry bones our Lord weeps, and so do we. Can these bones live? Oh Lord, you know. Can Lazarus walk amongst us again? Oh Lord, you know.

"I am going to open your graves, oh my people," says the Lord. "But our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely." But the voice of God thunders, “I am going to open your graves, and bring you up to from your graves, oh my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel and you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves, and bring you out from your graves, oh my people." Do we dare to believe the prophecy of Ezekiel? Do we dare to hold his words as true? Do we dare to believe that the bones of our faith can live? In a world that tears itself apart in violent acts of self-destruction; and in a church tearing itself apart and demonstrating to the world that it is no better than the worst the world can offer, can we dare to believe that the Lord will breathe life into these dry bones? Can we dare to hope? Is there hope? Can these bones live? Oh Lord, you know.

"Lazarus, come forth!" And the bones came together bone to bone, and the man wrapped in a shroud came forth from the tomb as the stone was rolled away, and the Spirit of the Lord moved mightily upon the bones, and Lazarus walked again amongst us; not as one without life, not as one without hope but as a witness to the mighty power of our Lord, a witness to the power of the Resurrection. These bones can live.

The forty days of our Lenten journey are a time for seeking out the broken, shattered, and dry bones of our lives, of the church, and of the world. As we find those bones, as we stand in their midst, as we fall up to our knees and weep over them, we are called to prayer: "can these bones live? Oh Lord, you know." We are called to self-examination, to repentance, but most importantly, to new life. The forty days are a time in which we journey forward through the valley of the dry bones, often finding ourselves in exile in dark places, perhaps even a tomb. In the midst of the valley, in the midst of the dry bones of our lives, we are called to prophesy to those same bones. And indeed these bones shall live. Only you will know the dry bones of your own story; together as a Christian people we seek to discover the dry bones of the church; and together as a human race we seek to uncover the dry bones of humanity. But out of our cry from the grave, we are called forth by our Lord to be his partner that together, we might turn mourning into dancing, brokenness into wholeness, ashes into fire, and death into life.

In these forty days, we journey through the valley of the shadow of death and out the mouth of a tomb into the garden of abundant life. Our Lord who has journeyed through these same depths stands at the mouth of the tomb beckoning us forward into the light -- not the light of some ephemeral, distant, future bliss, but into a world, yes, this world, illuminated by the light of Christ. "Can these bones live?" Yes, oh Lord, they can, they shall, and they will, because in you they are made alive -- because in you we are made alive. We press forward through these forty days knowing that we are not people without hope, but a people alive in the Resurrection of our Lord. We know that even amidst the dust there are always “alleluias” waiting to be sung. We know that even as our lives, our church, and our world struggle our way through the valley of dry bones, our Lord breathes new life on us, and we yet live.

"Lazarus, come forth!"

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

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