“Son of man,” the Lord asked the prophet Ezekiel, many centuries ago, “Can these bones live?” These bones that represented the waste and devastation that had become Israel; Israel, that once proud people, the glory of the whole earth, the apple of Yahweh’s eye, now pining away in exile, full of fear, absent hope. Can these bones live?
Ezekiel is not sure. There is no bravado here. The circumstances have pounded the hubris out of Israel. Even Israel’s prophets carry a gnawing doubt in their hearts. Accordingly, Ezekiel’s reply is as instant as it is heart-wrenching, “O Sovereign Lord,” he says, “You alone know.”
Indeed he does. And Yahweh, the God of futures, Lord of the impossible possibility, says to the prophet: “Speak.” Speak to the bones. Speak to devastation. Speak to waste. Tell it that Holy Breath is coming. That new life is on the way. That the valley of hopelessness and fear is not the end and that the story is about to break out in surprising new ways. That death will not have the final word over God’s people, and by proxy, over the people of the whole earth. Life triumphs.
Christians, according to Robert Jenson, are people who believe that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit is the God of Israel’s answer to his own question. Mutatis mutandis, what the God of Israel continues to do through the visible body of the resurrected Jesus, the Church, in the power of the Spirit is his ongoing answer to the question.
Can these bones live?
Look around and see.
I was gripped by that thought yesterday, Pentecost Sunday, as we worshiped with our new church family, New Life, here in Colorado Springs. It’s a weird thing, you know, to leave a church that you loved and served for so long, that had become so familiar to you, as we did a little more than a month ago (shout to my Bloom family!). But here we are, making our home among new friends, learning to pay attention to and lend our strength to the work of the Holy Spirit here. “What do you have for us here, Lord?” I keep asking. “What do you want us to give ourselves to in this community?” The questions that anyone making a transition into a new church would ask, I suppose.
But you know, here’s the thing. The longer I’m in church, the more I am convinced that for all of the dissimilarities and uniquenesses among churches, it is the similarities that are perhaps the most important. And yesterday as we worshiped it hit me in a fresh and powerful way:
In the midst of a world that is tearing itself to pieces
In the midst of a culture steeped in the worship and glorification of death
In the midst of the hopelessness and gut-wrenching cries and many vexations of human existence
THERE IS A PEOPLE.
Made alive by the Holy Spirit
Bound together in one Body
Testifying to a whole new way of being human together
Holding out the hope of “all things new”
Like many of you, it’s been utterly painful for me to watch the headlines of the last several months. London and Manchester and Kabul… the unrelenting assault on Coptic Christians… the famine raging across Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. It’s pain almost too large to fathom. What do we do?
The people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, have a short and ready answer to that question:
We keep enacting the Life that is stronger than Death.
We do it in and through our love for each other. Our receiving of strangers as family. Our worship of the Lord of life. We do it by caring for our neighbors and for the poor and otherwise forgotten that the Lord brings across our paths. We do it, as my friend Daniel preached so beautifully yesterday, by laboring in prayer for “all the saints” and by letting the beauty of God’s good news radiate to the world around us, drawing wayward sons and daughters into the orbit of the Father’s redemptive love. We do it by fighting the powers of Death tooth and nail, and seizing every opportunity to announce God’s triumph over it.
On Saturday, I had the incredible privilege of joining Daniel in ministry to the family of a faithful man in this church who was at that very moment breathing his last breaths. Surrounded by his wife and kids and his mother and friends who love him, we held hands with him and them and lifted our hearts up to the Lord who gives us life and breath and everything else. Psalm 23 rang in my ears… you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. No greater enemy of God and humanity than Death. “The last enemy” the Scripture says, “to be destroyed is Death.” And yet, right there, in the face of Death, there was beauty and love and holiness. The kingdom shimmered all around. Tears of gratitude and even joy rolling down the faces of those gathered there and I thought to myself, “Well look at that. Wouldn’t you know it, but Death is already losing its sting.”
The triumph of the life of the Spirit is upon us, friends. Open your eyes and see. The evidence of Death is everywhere, yes. But so are the signs of the life of the Spirit in Christ Jesus which is overcoming Death. I saw it at that bedside on Saturday. I saw it in the faces of those gathered together with each other in love and genuine shared life on Sunday morning. I saw and heard it in the worship and in the ministry of the Word, and I saw it–dear me!–when towards the end of the service a missionary couple who has rescued over five thousand children from the slums of India and from almost-certain exploitation was brought to the front to celebrate their long labor for the Lord of Life in one of the hardest places in the world. I nearly doubled over with tears, and the raucous applause from the congregation was the testimony…
“Can these bones live?”
You’d better believe they can.
Welcome, friends, to a world lit up with the light of the Resurrection, with the power of Pentecost. It is here. It is now. And as for me, I am not done trying to change the world with the Life that is stronger than Death. I hope you’re not either. There’s lots of work in front of us, and God is with us to accomplish dreams far beyond all we could ever ask or even imagine:
The very healing of the world.