Can These Bones Live?

Where is fear or cynicism holding you back from seeing life right now?  Can you find glimmers of God’s abundance even in the valley of the shadow of death?

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Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11

In our devotional book for Lent, Rev. Danielle Shroyer says, “To be quite honest, very few things feel more ridiculous than hope these days.”

Would you agree?

Rev. Shroyer points out how illogical hope is. She says, “What kind of insanity is a Christian who stands before all of this and says, “God is love. Peace is the way. Justice will arrive.”

Is it insanity though? 

Brene Brown says that the heart of hope is “tolerance for disappointment, determination, and a belief in self.”[1]  That sounds quite sane. I would add that it’s the work of God through the Holy Spirit that gives us that hope. But hope can easily become toxic positivity in which we put on a happy face and say everything’s fine because we don’t feel like we’re allowed to express our authentic feelings. Sometimes the hard reality about our relationship with hope is that it’s complicated.

This past week, our session (our church board), read the Ezekiel scripture that Georgia read for us. Kim Christian (one of our elders) told us that she has a new perspective on this scripture now that she’s in nursing school.  In nursing school they use a special computer called an anatomage. It’s a virtual dissection table[2] that allows people to visualize all the details of the human anatomy.  In the scripture, Ezekiel sees the bones coming together with sinews and flesh and skin. The anatomage shows that there’s so much more – the nervous system, the circulatory system, the various organs, and more.  It’s quite complicated, and all of it a part of how the body functions….it’s all a part of life.

Much of our knowledge of human anatomy has come by dissecting a body that’s dead. A cadaver.  That’s also what happens in an autopsy.  The pathologist examines the body and all its various systems to figure out what went wrong that caused the death. They can also tell what the person last had to eat or drink, what drugs were ingested, and whether they’d ever had any broken bones or previous injuries.  Because even after an injury has healed, there are still scars.  In this way, many of the complications of the person’s past life are revealed.


One of the complications of hope is that our past hurts and errors can get in the way, and keep us from seeing how new life is possible.  Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones coming to life is meant to give hope to the people of Israel who are living in Babylon, in exile. They’ve been in Babylon so long that they’ve given up hope of ever getting back home to Jerusalem. They wonder if they should just give up on their former life, their culture, their faith, their God.  Ezekiel’s vision shows them that God has not forgotten them and that God brings new life even after all that’s left are the bare bones.

With Ezekiel’s vision in mind, maybe it doesn’t seem so far-fetched and complicated that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead.  He’s only been in the tomb for three days. He still has all his flesh and bodily systems intact. It’s a preview of coming attractions, since Jesus himself will be raised from the dead before too long. Jesus and Lazarus are like bread dough – they rise.

Raising Lazarus from death is further revelation of who Jesus really is.  Some people respond with statements of faith, but not everyone. 

Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha are good friends of Jesus. He’s spent time with them before. Here in chapter 11, in their conversation before Jesus raises Lazarus, Martha tells Jesus, “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

But then when Jesus asks for the tomb to be opened, Martha says, “Oh, no, Lord, the smell will be terrible.”  She believes Jesus is the Messiah, but not that he can raise the dead.  She has hope for the future, but it’s complicated by her grief over the death of her brother.  And it’s next to impossible to know what new life can look like when you’ve never experienced it before.

So Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, and to the amazement of all who are gathered there, Lazarus comes out.

Afterwards, many of the people who were there with Mary & Martha believed in Jesus. (v45)  You’d think everyone would!  But that’s exactly what some of the high priests and Pharisees are worried about.

 “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple[h] and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

53 So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. (John 11:53)

You’d think everyone would be happy about Lazarus’ good fortune.  But some see it as a threat to their way of life.  To the people in power, it was a threat to their power. Change can be like that, even when it’s good change.

Thinking about all the complicated systems of the body got me to wondering about Lazarus.  The gospel writer doesn’t tell us what exactly caused his death, only that it was an illness.  Which part of his body had failed. What had to be healed in Lazarus for his body to be able to live again?

What needs to be healed in us?


One of the most challenging and interesting parts of being a pastor is learning about a church’s history. Not the church universal, but this church right here in Sterling, Kansas.  I have heard about lots of good memories, and I’ve also heard some stories about hurts and challenges.  It hurts when people argue and don’t find resolution.  It hurts when people leave.  It hurts when we are told that our faith isn’t strong enough or good enough, or that we have to behave or dress a certain way to be accepted.  It hurts when we don’t feel like we matter or that our voices are heard. It hurts when someone does something that destroys trust. It hurts when we feel criticized or attacked.

Every church has its history of hurts. Every church and every person need some kind of healing.  Ezekiel helped heal the hurts of Israel by showing the people in exile that God hadn’t given up on them.  Not because their faith was good enough, but because God still loved them. God’s love never fails.

When Jesus comes to raise Lazarus, he weeps and we see how love can be complicated. There are lots of discussions in the various commentaries about what emotions Jesus is feeling and expressing here.  Whatever Jesus is feeling, he’s feeling quite deeply.  Is it anger?  Is it deep caring?  Is it both?  I think underneath it all is the deep love that Jesus would go on to demonstrate when he died on the cross for us.  Psychologists say that love is the most powerful emotion of all.[5]  Love brings healing and renewal.  Love is at the heart of hope.


One of the art pieces for today is by a woman who lived through the massive earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010.  She says the story of Lazarus coming out of his tomb reminded her of the people emerging from the rubble of collapsed buildings after the earthquake.  Her story reminds us of the pictures on the news over the past month of people emerging from the rubble of collapsed buildings after the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.  Amazing acts of love drove workers digging around the clock to try to find anyone who might have survived.  Sometimes instead they found dead bodies, but they kept going in the hope of finding people alive.

In the midst of tragedy, love brings hope.  In the midst of trauma, love brings healing.  In the midst of helplessness, love brings action. 

This week there was yet another school shooting.  This time, in Denver, the student had a history of bringing weapons to school and so was required to submit to a pat-down every morning before he could go to class. On this particular morning, he pulled out a gun and shot the two administrators who were patting him down.  One of the news reporters was interviewing parents who said that this was the fourth time this month that the school was on lockdown and they’d had to come pick up their children.  One mother said, “We can’t keep doing this. We’ve got to do something.”[7]


She’s right. If we really care enough about stopping this from happening, we have to do something.  We show love by taking action.  After one of the earlier school shootings, the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, some of the people whose loved ones were killed took action, creating an organization called Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit that seeks to unite people in taking meaningful actions to prevent gun violence. They created a program called “Know the signs” based on research into the most common precursors of violence.[9]  (Link below and on Facebook.) Sandy Hook Promise has seen the effect of their actions through violence prevented, and they’ve been a part of getting legislation through congress.

Part of putting love into action involves being honest with ourselves and with each other about who we are and what we care about. Otherwise it can sometimes feel like we’re hiding ourselves in a cocoon.


Like Lazarus. Verse 44 says that when Lazarus came out of the tomb, his hands and feet were bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

In what ways might we need to unwrap our real selves and let them go?  Or allow the people around us to come out of their cocoons and be their real selves?

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how [God’s] ways will really satisfy you. Romans 12:2 TLB

We are being transformed in the how we think as we work to learn more about how to be anti-racist. Our systems of racism are deeply engrained in us.  The more we learn about the problems in our systems of poverty and prejudice, the more we change how we think and respond.

Love takes action when we take steps to resolve our differences and settle past hurts.  Who do you know who needs you to reach out?  Or do you need to admit a hurt of your own so you can work toward healing? We’ve all got scars of various kinds.

On 10 November 1982, Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, the third General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the fifth leader of the Soviet Union, died at the age of 75.  The list of foreign leaders who came to his funeral is long, and included then President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush.[11]  Some attendees were deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest.

There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband.[12]

Hope and love are both complicated and intertwined. It can be hard to keep hoping. But even when our hope is dim, God doesn’t give up on us or leave us alone.  Can these bones live?  Yes they can.

Thanks, God.

[1] Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection


[3] Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

[4] Photo by David Clode on Unsplash


[6] Rubble by Carmen Beaugelin, inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14. Conte crayon, charcoal, acrylic, paprika paste, cinnamon. Sanctified Art, LLC.


[8] Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash


[10] Photo by Ruth Paradis on Unsplash


[12] Gary Thomas, in Christianity Today, October 3, 1994, p. 26.

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