There can only be one answer.
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.
He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?"
I answered, "O Lord God, you know.”
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”
I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, "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.’
“Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O 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 up from 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; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’”
Can these bones live?
It is a powerful question: the ultimate question. Indeed, it is the only question when we stand in the presence of death, of loss, of heartbreak, despair.
And Ezekiel answers for all of us mortals, “O Lord God, you know.”
Only God knows.
The awesome — the awe-full truth is that we do not know. Not for certain. Neither for our loved ones, nor for ourselves. Ultimately, we must live in faith, in hope, in wonderment; for there is no absolute answer — in this life — as to What Happens Next.
It is a mystery. Some may call it a holy mystery: the great and glorious notion of a gracious, loving Creator and everlasting Sustainer who blesses and guides our lives; merciful and forgiving, who gently, compassionately holds our souls “in the palm of His hand.”
Others believe in nothingness: in “dust to dust,” that this existence is all there is. We live, we die, and that’s the end of it — and of us.
And yet, even those who consider this a one-shot world cannot deny a significant form of human immortality: our influence upon one another.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
~ Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II
People who have done great harm may be long dead, yet the damage persists in the lives of their victims; we see it, visibly, grievously — as dramatic and terrible as bleeding wounds. The undead; zombies embodying their perpetrators’ scripts in acts of hatred and violence, abuse of others, self-neglect, self-harm, self-destruction. “Seek revenge!” “Destroy!” “You’ll never succeed,” “You can’t,” “You’re nothing,”… Evil mantras that echo unceasingly through the years, repeating in life after life.
It can seem as if only evil lingers — as if the Destroyer’s power is more lasting than that of the Life Giver. But that’s only because the diabolical has a larger public relations department (the media have a particular love for what is horrid and hateful).
And now abide [lit. lasts] these three: faith, hope, and love;
and the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13
Love is out there — here! everywhere! all around us! We are submerged in it as fish are immersed in water; we don’t realize it. It is in the very air we breathe. It speaks softly, never shouting or shoving itself forward, so we may not hear or take notice of it, unless we are attentive.
And there are angels! Gracious, holy spirits, walking among us — of whom we are often unaware. They bring words of comfort and joy, simple acts of kindness, the gifts of compassionate listening, of honest concern and care. They may be long-term friends, they may simply pass by us on the street, but their good-heartedness, their gentle spirits, shine through and lift our souls. These are our “fellow travellers” — this is the Team that we have been called to join.
There is a balm, a healing balm that can gentle our world and ourselves into full life — that can make “these dry bones live:” the Gospel of the Lord Christ. It is the doctrine of grace, compassion, and holy determination; it blesses, forgives, encourages, and lifts up. It looks to what can yet be — here and in the hereafter.
Christ’s Gospel is powerful because of its honesty as well as its faith: its recognition of human fallibility and frailty as real. The world is filled with risks and dangers, with meanness and malevolence, with greed, envy, violence, duplicity, and every manner of temptation and sin. But that is not all that there is. Evil does not have the Last Word. We are called to follow the Way that brings hope and healing, that strengthens and encourages, that builds up and does not tear down.
This Way is not easy. Jesus said we are to take up our cross daily, facing the challenges courageously. We must also be wary and watchful, lest we fall prey to the illusion of a perfectible world: the ancient heresy perpetuated by advertising agencies and pharmaceutical companies of an earthly utopia: a land of immaculate kitchens, stain-free clothing, conflict-free families, wrinkle-free skin, clean windows, smokeless barbecues, flying pigs, and talking (British English speaking) reptiles. If only …. we buy, we spend, we do as we are told.
Utopia is exactly that: u-topia; “no-place;” a non-existent, unattainable, unreal world where all people everywhere get all that they (we) desire; exactly as we imagine it. Perfect health, perfect justice, perfect beauty, extravagant comfort; a land free from want, from crime, from risk or danger; where there is no envy or anger, no laws or litigation: everyone does what is right and good. Easy to sell, impossible to deliver.
These fantasy constructs distract and delude us from the truly possible: from what can be done, what we can accomplish; obscuring our potential for living fully behind excuses for every failing. Grieving a Utopia that can never be, our spirits weary, our strength exhausted, we succumb to hopelessness and despair.
"Mortal, can these bones live?"
I answered, "O Lord God, you know.”
Ezekiel knew the answer perfectly well. As with so many of the Hebrew prophets, he was happy to play the foil to the Eternal’s teaching questions. “Can these bones live?” Of course — if God wills it! And the Beloved is the Giver of Life, the One who leads captives to freedom — whether from Egypt or Babylonia or the Valley of despair.
Can we lift ourselves out of the dust? Can we rise from death through our own power? Can we restore our courage, our faith, our strength — alone? No, certainly not. But, with God’s help, all things are possible.
We have all been challenged, hurt, and troubled by circumstances, people, and events — some of which were brutal, traumatizing, damaging. But that is not all there is. We are more than our wounds, more than what we have suffered; we are, first and foremost, divinely-designed beings, with gifts and graces and radiant possibilities.
No matter how far we have fallen into that Dry Valley, or how long we’ve been there; no matter how parched our spirits, how weary our souls, how crushed our hope, these bones can live. Oh, Lord God, You know that they can!
The Light and Life of our Eternal, Ever-Loving God be with you,
Remember, as our Lord said:
“With God all things are possible.”
~ Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27