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In Ezekiel’s dream, the breath of God awakens and reconnects the bones of the fragmented selves, renews their flesh and returns to them their own life’s breath before placing them back on their own soil.

Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves… And you shall know that I am the Lord… 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 37:12-14

The following is a reflection on the Lectionary readings (Ezekiel 37:1-14 / John 14:23-29 / Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5) for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year C).

Engraving of “The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones” by Gustave Doré

The verses above are taken from the prophet Ezekiel’s wacky vision of a valley of dry human bones. The dream depicts the aftermath of an apocalypse that rendered a multitude of humans nothing but a bone dump: a field of disconnect, death and decay. In Ezekiel’s dream, the breath of God awakens and reconnects the bones of the fragmented selves, renews their flesh and returns to them their own life’s breath before placing them back on their own soil.

We used to sing a fun song about this story in Sunday school:

The knee bone connected to the… leg bone.
The leg bone connected to the… hip bone
The hip bone connected to the… back bone
O hear the word of the Lord!

I remember thinking Disney could do a great job with this story. I imagined an epic cartoon rendering of the scene after the fashion of Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse as a kind of Christ figure orchestrating the reassembly of the beloved of God. Of course, the music would be epic as well, and hilarious moments would occur as bones and fragments of bones, still woozy from having been rudely awakened from a dead sleep, bumbled around, animated by a force they couldn’t fathom, tried to reconnect. I would giggle at the thought.

But reading this passage this morning I didn’t giggle. I wept. I wept because travels afforded by my work have brought me to places where I’ve seen this valley with my own eyes. I’ve witnessed the deadly fragmentation of Palestine. I’ve stood in killing fields outside Manila. I’ve stood beside pools of human ash at Auschwitz and stepped over the sleeping bodies of the dispossessed on the streets of Kolkata. I wept for the centuries of displacement as a result of human cruelty and conflict, and the coming devastations that environmental shock will likely visit on the already beleaguered peoples of the earth. I wept for the First Nations of Turtle Island and the unmarked graves of their children scattered across North America in the aftermath of relentless national programs to “kill the Indian in the child.” I wept for the masses of people leaving their dead and fleeing their homeland because of the swarming plague of ISIS. And I wept tears of fainting gratitude for my grandchildren who sleep securely – a security that is most fragile.

To all this comes the word of the Lord: “And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil.”

Is there any consolation in this? Can we really hope?  

In another of today’s Lectionary readings, the apostle John, from exile on Patmos, writes: “And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:10).

John goes on to describe a city with no temple because the temple is God himself (and the Lamb). The city has no need of sun or moon because God himself is the light (and its lamp is the Lamb). In the middle of the city is a river running with the waters of life, bright as crystal, flanked by the evergreen trees of life bearing fruit and leaves for the healing of the nations. This river flows from the throne of God (and from the Lamb).

Three times, John’s description insists that the generation of this city comes from God and the Lamb. The Lamb, of course, is Jesus, the lamb who was slain, the homely, suffering servant who before walking into his own death and alienation calmly looked at his friends and said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27) – another of today’s Lectionary readings. I wonder if there is a connection here to the restoration of the disciple Peter who, after his disastrous triple denial of Christ, was given the opportunity, beside the calm and cooling waters of Galilee, to take those words back?

Amidst all the disaster in the world and our profound losses and unspeakable suffering, is there the possibility of deep-down peace? Is there even a glimmer of a shining city?

Recently, I was invited on a fishing trip with friends in Nootka Sound – a gorgeous fiord on the east coast of Vancouver Island. We had been sitting for hours on the boat with no catch, but it didn’t matter. The surroundings were sublime, and no one on our boat was feeling robbed. Eventually, our guide, who until then had been quiet, suddenly spoke up. He had been listening to our talk and had picked up that we were Christians. He admitted he didn’t know what to make of the “religious” component to our conversation. But then, in a surprisingly eloquent speech, he shared about his own life – how as a child he had fallen through the ice when walking with his brother. He said the minute he fell through and the shock of cold crushed his chest beyond breathing, he knew he wouldn’t live. In desperation he cried out to God. “I always thought it strange,” he said, “that my brother was right there, but I didn’t call out to him, I called out to God. I didn’t call out to the brother I believed in, but rather to the God I didn’t.” Somehow he survived.

He then told of a life filled with sadness and loss, of addictions and failures enough to fill and sink a boat. But he also talked about his current work as a guide and how profoundly settled his soul felt when he was on the water. Then, he stretched out his arms and gestured to the astonishing beauty we were floating in. He threw back his head and bellowed out to the cosmos, “There has to be great love!” My friends and I were gobsmacked. It was a moment, for me anyway, when the veil between heaven and earth split in two, and I saw a glimmer of that city as the deep, abiding calm of Christ’s hard-won peace washed over us.

I know this experience doesn’t offer a solution to the problem of suffering and death. But resurgences and resurrections abound, and we need to tell these stories, too.

Let me leave you with a song. It is a song for Good Friday, and so the main part of the song speaks about the descent into darkness of Good Friday. After the lyrics comes a churning broil of percussive, brooding, plaintive ache. One would think the song might fade out on that note, but near the end comes a building swell of life and light that climaxes in a breathless ecstasy. Although we didn’t deliberately record the song this way, sometimes the process defies explanation and the final product reveals things we didn’t know when we recorded it.

Listen carefully and let the song work on your imagination. Feel the desperate darkness of the main part of the song, but then see if you can let the ending carry you to a place where, on the last swell of strings, you catch a sudden glimpse of that shining city. In the aftermath of your apprehension, sense also, if you can, the abiding peace of Christ.

by Gord Johnson

Into the darkness we must go
Gone, gone is the light
Into the darkness we must go
Gone, gone is the light

Jesus remember me
When you come into your kingdom
Jesus remember me
When your kingdom comes

Father forgive them
They know not what they do
Father forgive them
They know not what they do

Appears on the 2008 CD release: Steve Bell / Devotion

1 Comment

  1. Kathryn Kazmaier

    Yet another example of music as prophecy of meaning-deep and rich-yet to be revealed… Need to be always watching, expectant!

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