We are feeling skeletal these days. The art of dealing out death and ruin has gained such prominence in our minds that we can hardly imagine anything else. We feel like bones, rattling during earthquakes and cracking under the high-noon sun.
At the beginning of Ezekiel’s vision, there are only Bones. Dry Bones scattered in a valley. Bones piled, covering the ground so that there is no soil visible, no life imaginable. Only Bones. Ezekiel’s response to the question, “can these bones live?” is the only one that could have been given: “O Lord God, you know.” Because, he could not know. We cannot know. From where we lie on the ground, collecting and returning to dust, life is unimaginable.
At the word of the Lord the Bones come together, and surely it was painful. As muscles and sinews form and reknit, these Bones were re-named “The Slain.” What has slain us? War, hatred, plague, perhaps. But who? Did The Slain cut themselves down? Did our tongues become weapons against one another? It is no wonder this prophecy causes such rattling pain as the bones come together. Bone to its bone. Sinews. Flesh. Wounds are painful, as is the time of the body remaking itself. Yet, there is no cry from The Slain. The pain of having come to life once again, skin pressed against another’s for the first time in recent memory, all is suffered in silence. Though joined together once again, there is no sound for “there was no breath in them.”
Breath is summoned from all corners of the world and suddenly The Slain can stand and are no more. Now, as perhaps “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like a rush of a violent wind,” to fill the valley, or the home, where The Slain have lain, “the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.” Again, a new name. A Multitude. This Multitude stands with lost hope, despairing. Perhaps they gather together in a room, whispering to one another, “what are we to do with this breath?”
The command echoes from the Spirit of the Lord.
“Prophesy. Imagine a world of the living and speak of it. Tell of wonders that can come from this resurrecting Spirit. Testify about the God who was with you before you were a Multitude, before you were The Slain, before you were Bones. Call upon the name of the Lord and speak truth with this new breath flowing from your lungs.”
This is the second Pentecost in a row in which we feel pressed on all sides by the death and ruin which stem from disease and greed. Or perhaps it is the two-thousandth. The birth of the church came through a violent wind, an animating breath, tongues as of fire. The church was born into the same death-dealing world into which Christ was born. The one in which Christ was crucified, and the one in which Christ was resurrected.
The birth of the church is a painful resurrection. Our tears have left us parched. Brutal words from our own tongues have cut down our daughters and sons, leaving us skeletal and bare. Of what have we dreamt while lying dry in this valley? In these skeletal days, what visions live in distant hope?
Dreaming and hoping of this new life and resurrection means remembering what has cut us down. More painfully, it means remembering what we have cut down ourselves. Scattered in a dry valley we are forced to learn grief and lament as piles of Bones. When a living one, brought to our valley by the Spirit of the Lord, comes, a voice speaks to us. One who has breath to prophesy calls out to piles of Bones. Our joints ache as our bodies become alive again. With re-opened eyes we see that The Slain with whom we lie are the same ones we cut down with our words and our deeds.
The living one sends breath to our lungs. As this Spirit enters into us we can stand up into life as a Multitude, a congregation. But, before we stand, we must grasp the one next to us. Our bodies have atrophied. Despite all wounds, if we want to rise to our new life we have to stumble to our feet with hands held together, arms around shoulders, each member leaning against another.
The breath has entered our lungs. As we breathe out, we remember the command from the Spirit of the Lord. Its promise of dreams, visions of wholeness, emptied graves, and soil comes from our resurrected lungs. We speak this promise and hear the Lord calling in the wind our true name, “O my people.”
At Pentecost, the Church is born and named. A new breath in new lungs. Divided tongues as of fire teaching us new words which resurrect rather than slay. Each breath out is a proclamation of empty graves in a death-dealing world. And as we breathe out a holy promise, we hope for another lungful of the Spirit to enter and tell of life to come.