Friday, March 29, 2013

Mortal, Can These Bones Live?


Easter Vigil
30 March 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC


            “Mortal, can these bones live!”  With this question God summons the prophet Ezekiel to a task that he probably hoped someone else might be called upon to do.  After all, Ezekiel has not had an easy time of it.
            A priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, Ezekiel was among the Judeans taken into exile by the Babylonians after they had defeated the Judeans and destroyed the city in 597 bce.  A few years after his arrival in Babylon, Ezekiel found himself called by God from his priestly ministry to a prophetic one.  But what a prophetic ministry was his!
            It fell to Ezekiel to tell the Judeans that their cherished temple and their monarchy had been brought to an end.[1]  It fell to Ezekiel to tell his compatriots that the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed.[2]  It fell to poor old Ezekiel to tell the exiles that God had ended their relationship with the land promised to their ancestors.[3]  These are hardly messages that a prophet hopes God would ask her or him to share with people.
            Ezekiel’s people were filled with questions.  Why is Israel in exile?[4]  Is God unjust?[5]  Why didn’t God protect the land of promise from the Babylonian invaders?[6]  Is God able to do anything in this situation?[7]
            To these and other questions Ezekiel does have any answer.  The old structures and systems that have been destroyed will be renewed so that they may do what God intended them to do --- to glorify God so that all people might know who is sovereign over history.[8]  In the meantime God will work to change how the people think and feel, creating a new covenant written on their hearts not on stone.[9]  Even in the exile the weak will be cared for and the spirits of the desolate and despondent will be raised up.[10]  Finally, peace will reign in the land.[11]
            But in the meantime, the people will endure their exile.  They will be, in almost every meaningful way, dead.  Their dry bones litter the landscape of Judea and the dry bones of their hopes and aspirations now litter the town and cities where the Babylonians have settled their captives.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  “Yes!”, God says, speaking through the prophet.  God will breathe life into the bones, put flesh and sinews upon them and they will rise up, a new people, a living witness to the God of Israel who does wonderful things.  The memory of the exile will not be erased, the sorrows of the loss of land and kin will be remembered, but the people, the people will have a new role to play in God’s salvation.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  This is a question asked by many of our aboriginal sisters and brothers as they look around at the third-world conditions that still afflict many First Nations communities in this country.  There are some who believe that the situation is endemic and cannot be remedied unless First Nations people abandon their lands and join so-called ‘mainstream’ Canadian society.
            Then, in January of this year, six young men and a guide left Whapmagoostui, Qu├ębec, the northernmost Cree community on the east shore of Hudson’s Bay to walk to Ottawa.  These young men had been inspired by the ‘Idle No More’ movement and one of them, David Kawapit, came up with the idea for a symbolic walk along the ancient trade routes that linked the communities along the shore of the Bay.
            Along the way their numbers grew.  When they reached Ottawa on this past Monday, more than 400 aboriginal walkers had joined the seven.  What did they want to show?  They wanted to show that their culture is not dead, that the sorrows of the loss of land and kin will not be allowed to disempower the current generation, and the people, the people will have a new role to play in Canada, the land of their ancestors.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  “Yes,” said young David and his companions.  The Creator has a purpose for all creatures, including aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.  Together we might craft the just society that we all desire.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  There are no doubt some who wondered whether Christian traditions such as ours that value open minds, open hearts and open hands have a future.  Perhaps we are living through an exile no less difficult than that of our sisters and brothers in Babylon.  We seem caught in the jaws of a religious culture where the middle way, a way that values both mind and heart, that honours both faith and questioning, is being chewed into pieces.  Our secular neighbours identify us with less respectful and more dogmatic forms of religious practice.  Many young people seek wisdom from wells other than the worshipping communities that tonight celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
            But before we wonder whether God has forgotten us, let us not forget that the people of Israel, despite all the efforts of tyrants, still witness to the Holy One of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Before we ponder whether we have a future, let us not forget David Kawapit and his companions who witness to the vitality of peoples who have more reason than we to question the future.  Before we give in to any despondency, let us not forgot that two thousand years ago a small group of Jews thought that their beloved teacher was dead and their hopes buried with him.  Within fifty days they were preaching and teaching, healing and growing.  Even the mightiest empire of the day could not resist the message.
            “Mortal, can these bones live?”  Most certainly they can.  Most certainly they will.  And the rattling of the bones coming together will fill the earth with the sounds of God’s renewing and compassionate love.  Amen.



[1] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[2] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[3] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[4] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[5] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[6] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[7] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[8] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1153.

[9] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1154.

[10] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1154.

[11] The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1154.

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