Defeat, death, and decay are the colors of darkness that fill Ezekiel's vision in chapter 37. There has been a battle in this valley but the victors have long since moved on leaving the bones of the dead and defeated behind to rot. In fact, by the time Ezekiel sees them, they are done rotting. These bones are dry. Their defeat so long past, so complete, so utterly irreversible, that there are not even remnants of flesh on these bones. They belong to an army not only defeated but also seemingly forgotten, their sacrifice unappreciated, as they are left for the birds to pick clean and the elements to smooth over until one day they will be erased completely, no memory of them left on the earth.
In the midst of this yawning abyss, an absurd question is asked; "Can these bones live?". A question so absurd that even Ezekiel seems hesitant to offer as an answer what he can only hope. Instead, he throws the question back to the questioner; "Lord, you know." And so God begins the work of reversing the utterly irreversible, breathing life where there was once death.
It is not until after the vision is complete that the identity of these bones is revealed. One might have concluded easily enough that these were the bones of those who lost their lives defending Jerusalem against the Babylonians onslaught. But v.11 tells us otherwise. "Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.'" It is those who have survived that see themselves as dry bones. This is a vision for those whose bodies are alive but whose situation is so defeated and hopeless that they feel like nothing more than dry bones. This is a vision for the living dead.
For the exiles in Babylon, this is a promise that they will one day return home. Their exile is not endless; their destruction is not complete. But it is also more than that. It is a demonstration to Israel concerning the kind of God that they serve; the kind of God who reverses the irreversible, the kind of God who can rattle dry bones to life; the kind of God who raises the crucified.
Often we find ourselves asking the same question of ourselves, our churches, and our world; "Can these dry bones live?" Can those who seem dead to all spiritual counsel ever be spiritually alive? Can the old, aching bodies that have served Christ for so long still render faithfulness to their Lord? Can those who have suffered immeasurable loss ever be made whole? Can a church which has declined in number for two decades be made alive again? Can a world so full of death and sin ever know life and peace?
Can God raise the dead? Everything hinges on this. If the answer is no, then we are to be pitied more than all people. But if the answer is yes...