Lutherbibel 1534, Illustration zu Ezechiel 37 (Source: Vanderbilt University lectionary)
Easter Sunday is Resurrection Day in the western Christian calendar. There is another remarkable resurrection story that occurred hundreds of years before the resurrection of Jesus - Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones.1 This dramatic vision was a prediction of the resurrection of Jesus and informs us of what occurred on a cosmic scale.
Ezekiel, the prophet, in a time of severe spiritual decline, found himself transported to a valley full of human bones. How traumatizing it would be to find oneself surrounded by the bones of those who were once living, breathing people, fathers, mothers, children, and grandparents, not unlike images from the holocaust of the Second World War or the killing fields of Cambodia, or, closer to home, the continued discoveries of unmarked graves of children who died at the Indian residential schools here in Canada.
"Can these bones live again?"
Ezekiel was informed, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.'"
Note that this was a description, not of a single individual, but of a whole community that had died, the "house of Israel," disconnected from God, from each other, and even from themselves! Isn't this a graphic description of the state of the church today? We have bought into the culture of individualism. The resulting polarization has pulled us apart, and we are dying. Rather than being known for our love for each other, the church is more known for divisions, colonialism, racism, patriarchy, and exclusiveness. Doesn't it break your heart that people are actually triggered by religious trauma when they cross the threshold of a church building? We were not made for this, the roots of which are isolation and independence. We were made for authentic community infused with the love of God, but how do we become that?
Can these bones live again?
"Prophesy to these bones..." Ezekiel is told. As one commentator2 wrote, perhaps the biggest surprise was not that God told Ezekiel to do this, or that God could resurrect the driest of bones. The biggest surprise was that Ezekiel did what God instructed him to do. He did what seemed to be completely ludicrous. He didn't say, "Yes but... they're dead, they can't hear me!" He disregarded the voices of despair and cynicism and responded to the voice of hope. He prophesied to the dead bones, and resurrection came. Bones came together; flesh, sinew and skin came upon them; as he continued to prophesy, breath entered into them, and they stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
At the resurrection of Jesus, a whole community, the people of God, came back to life! Ezekiel reminds us that the resurrection was never meant to be about an individual person. It has always been about a community. After his resurrection, Jesus breathed on his little bedraggled and demoralized community and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." He gave them the "kiss of life," and said, "Peace be unto you, as the Father has sent me, I am sending you." As a resurrection community, we are now in the forgiveness business.
We are a resurrection community, the Body of Christ, a reconstituted "house of Israel," both Jew and Gentile. We "bear this treasure in earthen vessels." Like Ezekiel, we are invited to join with God in the ongoing miracle of resurrection.
Despite all our failures and the stench of death all around us, Christ's resurrection proclaims that the story isn't finished. We can still, in loving obedience, do the foolish thing. We can still declare in deed and in word, "Let there be light." We can still love those with whom we disagree. We can still forgive and bless our enemies. We can still serve one another and our neighbours. We can still give extravagantly, even when we feel we have nothing. The resurrection tells us that there can be no Easter Sunday without Good Friday forgiveness and self-giving love.
Can these bones live again?
A few weeks ago, we, at Vancouver Eastside Vineyard, felt led to do a seemingly foolish thing. We took our regular Sunday worship time, just to come together, to love our space, to rake leaves, to pick up garbage, and to hand out hot chocolate to our neighbours. A Syrian refugee family showed up expecting a regular church service, and once they figured out what was going on, they joined us enthusiastically in raking leaves – a Syrian grandmother did so while still wearing her very stylish white boots! This family is now becoming a much-loved part of our community! Resurrection! Bones coming together!
Doing the foolish thing sometimes means doing so defiantly in the face of what Walter Brueggemann calls the "yes buts..."3 of our lives. When Jesus told the bystanders to remove the stone of Lazarus' tomb, Martha protested, "Yes but... he's been dead for four days. He stinks!"
What are your "yes buts...?" Where is your stench of death? "Yes but... I've failed too many times." "Yes but... I have an addiction." "Yes, but... I'm over the hill, past my prime..." "Yes but... someone or something has died or is gone, representing hopes and dreams that have died with them."
Death, in whatever form it takes in our lives, always seems so final. The resurrection reminds us that death will never have the last word and everything we do in these physical bodies matters, now and forever.
1 Ezekiel 37:1-14
2 A Daily Reflection from Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar, University Hill Congregation, 2023.
3 A Way Other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent, Walter Brueggemann, Westminster John Knox, 2017.
Gordie Lagore is lead pastor of the Vancouver Eastside Vineyard motley crew where he has served for 27 years. He also serves as a spiritual director, both within the Vineyard and beyond. From 1998-2014, Gordie and his wife, Kathleen, served on the BC Vineyard Regional Team, and the Vineyard Canada National Team in various capacities. They are the parents of two amazing adult children and four adorable grandchildren.