11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” – Ezekiel 37:11-14
We’d just taken casualties one night at Forward Operating Base Junction City, just outside of Ar Ramadi and Tamin. The medics took me into a tent next to the Charlie Company medical treatment center where they were treating the living. In this tent were the deceased, three of them, laid out and their faces covered. I can only surmise that the medics covered their faces because it’s hard to look death in the eye. This doesn’t just happen in combat zones either. Even today I’m hearing from more and more people who don’t want viewings before funeral services or prefer cremations. I refer to this tendency not as a matter of judgement but more as a matter of observation of human nature. When death looks us in the eye we tend to flinch and look away or wish it away; the loss of our loved ones to death is deeply disturbing and painful.
However, in our text from Ezekiel above the prophet is used by God as an example for us of how scenes of death and dying should also not diminish our faith or bring us to our knees, no matter how deeply the death of our loved ones disturbs or pains us. You can bet that Ezekiel would have much rather been any place other than standing looking out over the dry bones of dead Soldiers strewn out before him in the valley. But God brings Him there anyhow. God brings Him there to make a point. Ezekiel is worried about the restoration of the nation of Israel to the Promised Land—because they are presently exiled in Babylon. In Babylon the oppression of God’s chosen nation is great. The Lord God brings Ezekiel to the Valley of dry bones to assure him that God is powerful enough to restore the exiled children of Israel to the promised land of Israel. Once there on site He has Ezekiel speak His (the Lord’s) words to bring the bones together again in human form, and with flesh on, and then to restore life to the dead bodies. The Lord does what is a most difficult task (from the human point of view) and resurrects the dead—to assure Ezekiel that He is therefore more than capable of the easier task (from the human
viewpoint) of rescuing the Israelites from Babylon and restoring them again to the Promised Land.
Jesus repeats this same sort of lesson before the Scribes in Matthew 9:5 when He heals the paralytic (which is the more difficult thing to prove from humanity’s viewpoint) in order also prove that He can do the harder thing (from humanities’ viewpoint) and He can forgive sins. Yet, Jesus goes even further than this and reaffirms that He can do the more difficult thing to prove —that of forgiving sins–by giving His own life on the cross for them. Then on the first Easter Sunday He rises from the dead to reaffirm the victory won on Good Friday over our sins. Let us be clear here that the forgiveness of sins on the cross was indeed the hardest thing ever done and there was nothing easy about it for God the Father who sacrificed His own Son for us.
We don’t see God’s plan for us when we look at death. Yet Christ has said “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19) So, if we’ve looked on the face of death–like many have in war or some of us have in our grief over loved ones lost–then the Lord’s demonstration to Ezekiel should also encourage us that there is certain hope for our salvation and eternity. Death has been swallowed up in the victory of Easter. We need not hide from it or hide it from our eyes. Our dry bones will one day be re-assembled and given new flesh and life in the Heavenly Kingdom of God. Easter Sunday is the Grand Finale and icing on the cake that brings this all home as “He is Risen…..He is Risen indeed!”