April 2, 2017
John 11:1-45
Romans 8:6-11
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130


Can These Bones Live?
Lent 5


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Chris Keating
For nearly a decade and a half, Iraq has been wracked by violence and conflict. After U.S.-led forces invaded the country to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, an endless round of sectarian fighting was released as various militias and other groups (both religiously and regionally aligned) sought to dominate the country. Of course, the most recent push has been to try to oust ISIS from their strongholds in majority Sunni areas -- something most Westerners support because of the group’s particularly vicious behavior. Yet for those living in those areas, it appears that the Shiite militias who are “liberating” communities from ISIS control are engaging in their own form of revenge against families who they believe had assisted ISIS. It seems that many Iraqis are experiencing an almost hopeless cycle of violence and retribution, one that evokes the cry of the psalmist: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” As team member Chris Keating notes in the next installment of The Immediate Word, it’s certainly a contemporary equivalent for Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones. And yet, in an area where hope for peace and reconciliation seems almost completely illogical, our lectionary readings this week remind us that the Lord is more than capable of breathing new life into places of death and destruction. Here’s a preview:


Can These Bones Live?
by Chris Keating
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; John 11:1-45

Squinting, Ezekiel holds his hand above his eyes, trying to grasp the array of inexplicable hopelessness set before him. Dust moves around the heaped piles, dried by the heat of desert winds and stripped of all semblance of structure. The lifeless piles of skeletons, devoid of ligament and muscle, weep silent tears in remembrances of the horror which they have witnessed. In that valley, all semblance of hope is reduced to rubble.

But out of that rubble comes God’s life-giving ruah, the creating Spirit breath which will summon new life from Israel. God’s intervention begins with a question to Ezekiel: “Can these bones live?”

It’s a good question, and only God knows the answer.

Today, Iraq remains one of many places where piles of lifeless bones continue to amass. There are, at last count, only ten countries that can be considered free from violent conflict. Nowhere is the stench of hopelessness more noxious than the Middle East. In 2016, the Global Peace Index noted that 75 percent of the world’s battlefield deaths occurred in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

Hopes for peace in Iraq still seem distant, even as U.S.-backed troops regain various strongholds in Iraq, defeating ISIS. But attention is shifting to what happens next. It’s also a good question. Iraq Uncovered, a documentary that recently aired on PBS, revealed levels of torture, kidnapping, and violence that even a battle-hardened journalist found shocking.

It’s not just ISIS. British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai spent months inside of Iraq. She noted that many Iraqi leaders remain fearful of the Shia militias that have been successful in driving ISIS out of the country but are leaving canyons of despair behind. Navai, overwhelmed by the violence she encountered, likened the Iraqi province of Diyala to a “militia state” overrun by gangs and kidnappers. “If you want a glimpse at the future of Iraq,” she says, “look at Diyala.”

It’s a place of chaos and hopelessness, a place yearning for the breath of new possibility. That is the promise Ezekiel discovers. In a place of death, God’s breath will soon invite new possibility....
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