A little history. The kingdom of Babylon spent the better part of 20 years laying siege to Jerusalem. When they finally claimed victory, they took the leaders and elites of Israel captive back to Babylon so that Israel couldn’t easily rebuild into a strong nation that could pose a threat to them again. And they left the countryside of Israel littered with the dead, bones left to rot and bleach in the desert sands.
Ezekiel is one of the Israelites who was brought to Babylon and lived there in exile ….and this is Ezekiel’s vision. These bones are literal….these bones exist. Just like the bones of the killing fields of Cambodia…where over a million people were executed almost 50 years ago…and where bones still surface in heavy rains today even after decades of excavation. Just like the bones in mass graves discovered just this year… of native children buried in school yards and Black citizens buried after the Tulsa massacre and Ukranians slaughtered by Stalin. The bones exist…in Israel and all over the world. The millions of bones littering the earth because we can’t seem to stop killing one another.
Yes, these bones are real. And in Ezekiel’s vision, God has something to say about the death we humans so nonchalantly inflict on one another. The evil we do to one another. And the despair and hopelessness we feel in the face of our never ending cycles of violence.
Look at these bones….can these bones live?
The answer, of course….is no. No one can undo the horrors of Jerusalem or Cambodia….Tulsa or Ottawa…or anywhere else. No one can undo the evils of manifest destiny and the extermination of the natives of this land. No one can undo the evils of slavery and the legacy of lynchings and massacres. No one can undo the horrors of wars and injustice and cruelty that fill our history books. No one can call them back to life. It doesn’t work that way.
But what does our faith say? Ezekiel has seen enough and is jaded enough that he can’t say…”oh sure God…no big deal…I bet you can take care of this….you can do anything….gooooo God!!” No…Ezekiel has seen too much to be overly rosy and optimistic.
But he does still believe in God. God who created the universe. God who breathed life into creation. God who holds the expanse of the cosmos, beloved in the palm of God’s hand. So he says, simply…Oh God. You know. I can’t see it. I can’t imagine it. It seems impossible. But you are God. I’m not. You know. And I’ll leave it there.
That’s kind of how I feel when I am faced with the evils and awful things that we do and have done. Is it possible that we can recover from this? Can we ever undo the massive injustices we have perpetrated? Can things ever be made right? Is redemption possible? Is wholeness possible?
This Sunday we lit the candle of “peace” …. And the Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. And shalom means more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible,. Shalom is about things being made whole…it’s about wellbeing…it’s about the whole creation flourishing. And on this Sunday..we ask…is that possible? Can these bones live?
And just like Ezekiel, all we can say…is God only knows.
But then God tells Ezekiel…to prophesy to the bones…to tell them God will lay sinews and flesh back on them. And so Ezekiel does…he speaks to the bones….and then…it happens. A rattling… noisy…chaotic.. Life begins to take shape. But God tells Ezekiel to keep going…not to stop…to call the breath into them…to speak life to them. And sure enough, they begin to breathe once more.
Look at the bones…and call them back to life. You need to say it, Ezekiel. You need to speak life into those bones…or they will just lie there.
So…What on earth does that look like? What would it look like to speak life…to bring wholeness back into the killing fields of Cambodia…the Tulsa Massacre…the deadly “civilization” of the Native Americans. I’d say it looks like the people who tell their stories. It looks like the people who tell the stories of the slaughtered …so they are not forgotten. It looks like the people who are doing their best to return the bones to families, to communities that they were stolen from. It looks like people acknowledging the wrongs and evils of our past and not pretending they never happened. It looks alot like confronting the ugly parts of our human history….and not imagining that they have no effect on us all. It looks like teaching history with all the horrors intact and not white washing it to make us feel better about ourselves. It looks a lot like the lynching memorial in Montgomery AL…it looks like the reclamation of native burial grounds we have used for other purposes. It’s about making sure we’re paying attention to communities that have been violated and devastated….that we’re listening to them and making changes. And you know what? That business of speaking life…it rattles – it’s noisy and chaotic. But it’s how life begins to take shape again. It’s how communities begin to feel seen and heard again…it’s how they finally begin to breathe.
The bones are real. They are literal. And God tells Ezekiel….Speak life into them.
But the bones are also a vision…and they are also not so literal. They are the whole house of Israel…the folks still living…who are weary and tired. Who have lost hope. Who feel cut off. Alone. Who question whether God is with them. Here we move beyond the communities that have been devastated by violence and injustice and war….and find those others who are lonely and depressed and anxious. Those who are grieving. Those battling health crises. Those who are weary of COVID and weary of the COVID wars that have ripped apart families and communities and workplaces. Those of us that are simply overwhelmed by all that is wrong in the world. Many of us feel like our bones are dried up. And God says…speak life to them. Speak life…I can bring you also out from your graves.
This is the God who raised Tabitha and Lazarus. This is the God who raised Jesus from the dead. There is hope. In God, hope is never lost. Even when our bones are bleached in the desert sun. Even when we cannot imagine how life could be possible again. God’s breath is in us. And we can speak life, even in the face of the worst of circumstances. As Christmas nears…our Advent job of preparation goes well beyond stringing lights and decorating trees. Our advent job of preparation is daring to believe that no circumstance is broken beyond redemption. Our advent job is daring to believe that God can knit us back together with sinew and skin and skin and breath…even when the circumstances of life have ripped us apart. Our advent job is speaking life to one another….believing that wholeness and restoration are possible. This advent…we are peacemakers…for a world that is broken apart….we are called speak the love of God that sees us, hears us, puts us back together and loves us back to life. All of us. May we speak life…for all the weary bones. Amen.