I’ve witnessed three significant traffic accidents in my life. An 18-wheeler drove at high speed on to an embankment and tipped on its side. An SUV lost control and ended up in a several foot-deep marsh. A pick-up truck on an interstate highway was sent spinning and flaming in the air after it was hit by a boat that became unhitched.
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After the shock of witnessing these incidents – and responding to help with two of them – a disturbing feeling lingered with me for days or even weeks afterwards. Trucks are supposed to keep their wheels on the road. SUVs are supposed to stay on the road. And pick-up trucks are not supposed to go airborne. Yet what is supposed to happen didn’t happen, and what is not supposed to happen did. That they did was terribly unnerving to me.
When Jesus rises from the dead, the guards and even disciples are surprised and shocked. The Bible says they were afraid (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24). Why were they afraid? For one, dead doesn’t come back to life. Dead stays dead. It’s the normal pattern of things. Yet with Jesus the normal pattern of things is not the norm.
So too in Sunday’s reading from Ezekiel 37:1-14. In this passage the prophet Ezekiel is led by God to a valley, a place of depth and of vulnerability. The valley is filled with dry bones. They haven’t seen life for a long, long time. “Can these bones live?” God asks Ezekiel.
If God asked me, I’d likely respond, “Nope.” But, God didn’t ask me.
“LORD God, only you know,” Ezekiel responded. He didn’t say, “Yes!” but neither did he say, “Nope!” He turned it back to God. And God showed him the way.
“Prophesy over these bones,” the LORD commands Ezekiel, “and something that is not supposed to happen will happen; the normal pattern of things will get up-ended. Death will be come life.”
Believing that death can become life is a belief against all odds. Expecting a normal pattern to give way to a different future is a fool’s errand.
Yet that’s our calling and God’s promise, isn’t it? Not that we keep doing business as usual, but instead that we seek – and expect – and even DEMAND – something to give, something to be different. Ezekiel prophesied to dead bones, and they impossibly came to life. Jesus commanded the dead Lazarus to “come out” of his tomb, and he did, still wrapped in his burial cloths. Jesus fed over 5000 people with an one kid’s lunch supply … and had plenty left over.
We’re going to see this again in two weeks when we gather around a manger – a feeding trough for farm animals – where God himself, the Savior of the World, comes to us as a vulnerable child born in a stable to an unwed teenage mother. This is part of God’s business of upending the normal, of going against all odds, of unsettling the status quo.
If I’m honest I think this is all pretty unnerving.
If I’m a dead dry bone, maybe I like it that way. I’ve lived a good life, and am now settled in a dry valley for eternity. Why rattle me and reconnect me and make me into something again … something that could hurt and die once again?
If I’m a prophet, why give me such words to say if maybe it won’t happen? Why shows me that the impossible is possible when it seems that all too often the impossible remains impossible?
There’s so much risk in all of this. It just sounds like a terrible idea. Staying dead, keeping quiet, is so much safer.
But safety is not our calling
Following Jesus – even to the cross and the empty grave – is our calling.
Daring to speak words of life in a valley of death is our calling.
Hearing such words and allowing ourselves get stirred up into new life is our calling.
Going to a manger to worship with foreigners, peasants, and stinky animals is our calling.
Sharing what we have so that others may also have is our calling.
Our calling is scary, yes, for that calling demands that we leave some things behind: we must leave behind the security of knowing which way is up. We must leave behind the confidence that dead stays dead. We must leave behind and refuse to play the zero sum game that regulates us with the law of finitude.
We are called forward into God’s agenda of upending the normal where the lowly are highly exalted. We are called forward into God’s agenda where those who lose life gain it. We are called forward into God’s agenda where those who give receive.
It’s a scary calling, but we’re not alone in it. We have sisters and brothers – simultaneously dry bones and prophets, all of them – along with us on this journey. We have saints who have shown us the way and whose witness from the pushes us forward into God’s promised future. And we have our Lord Jesus, whose impossible life shows us that “with God all things are possible” (Luke 1:37).