Can these bones live?

I sometimes have trouble focusing. My mind careens around like a pinball. I see connections between X and Y and my mind races off to how Y connects to Z and so forth. Or it can be as simple as “what’s the next thing to sing in this long Good Friday service?” So I sometimes miss things.

I have it on pretty good authority that I’m not alone in this, by the way, and that single-mindedness is part of that toward which our salvation – our spiritual healing and restoration – tends.

But last night, my mind stopped racing for a moment. John nearby was chanting Ezekiel chapter 37 – “the Spirit of the Lord … set me in the midst of the plain, which was full of human bones ….”

I thought that was a prophecy of the restoration of Israel! What’s it doing in a Good Friday service!?

The Fathers taught that it prophesies the Final Resurrection:

Great is the lovingkindness of the Lord, that the prophet is taken as a witness of the future resurrection, that we, too might see it with his eyes … We notice here how the operations of the Spirit of life are again resumed; we know after what manner the dead are raised from the opening tombs … And finally, he who has believed that the dead shall rise again ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump (for the trumpet shall sound) … shall be caught up among the first in the clouds to meet Christ in the air’; he who has not believed shall be left, and subject himself to the sentence by his own unbelief.

(Ambrose of Milan via the Orthodox Study Bible.)

Again, this except from the daily Dynamis devotional:

Ezekiel 37:1-14    (4/3-4/16)     Prophecy at Lamentations Orthros of Great &Holy Saturday

The Mystery of Resurrection: Ezekiel  37:1-14 SAAS, especially vs. 3: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ So I answered, ‘O Lord, You know this.’” God speaks through His Prophet Ezekiel to show us …a great multitude of bones on the face of the plain.  They were very dry (Ezek. 37:1,2). We confront bleak death. Can it be undone?

Archpriest Georges Florovsky faces the vast plain of dry death, and he adds a notable disclaimer: “Human death did not belong to the Divine order of Creation.  It was not normal or natural for man to die.”  Death is not according to the will of God.  It is alien, an enemy in league with the father of lies, the purveyor of death.  Father Florovsky recalls that in Scripture death is “the wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23).  Therefore, he stoutly refuses the conception of death “…as a release of an immortal soul out of the bondage of the body.”  Rather, he counters with the great truth that “…death is not a release, it is a catastrophe,” following the world-view of Scripture.

By bringing us into the valley of dead, dry bones, God sets a mystery before us:  “Can these bones live?” (Ezek. 37:3).  Cancer, heart attacks, tsunamis, suicide bombers, earthquakes, and the graves of our war dead press us to say, “Unlikely!”  But the Prophet does not answer this way.  He defers to the power, mercy, and boundless love of God.  “O Lord, You know this” (vs.3).  Yes, death defies us and the image of God within us.  We cry out, “What of death, O Lord?”  Is the end just weathered bones on the valley floor of hades?

But, the word of the Lord stops the mind to arrest our attention: “Thus says the Lord to these bones: ‘Behold, I will bring the Spirit of life upon you. I will put muscles on you and bring flesh upon you.  I will cover you with skin and put my Spirit into you.  Then you shall live and know that I am the Lord’”(vss. 4-6).  The Prophet Ezekiel was a deported slave. The life of Israel was virtually ended by conquest and deportation.  Still, God promised, “Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will open your tombs, bring you up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel” (vs. 12).

God’s promise was no less incredible for the disciples scattered at the arrest and  crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.  He died on the cross.  He crossed into the plain of dry bones. Where was God with His promise?  Learn from Ezekiel.  The Prophet obeyed God: “So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the Spirit entered into them and they lived and stood upon their feet, and exceeding great assembly” (vs. 10).  Likewise, the Lord Jesus kept His promise as well: “They will scourge Him and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again” (Lk. 18:33).  “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep….even so in Christ all shall be made alive” ( 1 Cor. 15:20,22).  Ezekiel discloses the way. The Lord Jesus’ Resurrection is just the beginning.  And many shall follow!

The gates of Hades didst Thou shatter, O Lord, and by Thy death Thou didst destroy death.  And Thou didst free the race of man, granting life and great mercy to the world.