This meditation was preached at the sunrise service. It's reproduced here for those worshipping from afar.
We must be out of our minds. Who decides to come to a graveyard before dawn when it’s still cold outside to sing songs? Nobody with any sense, that's for sure. And we’re singing wild songs. Where, O Death, is now thy sting? Where's thy victory, O Grave? Are we blind? Here it is. We’re standing in it, among the bodies of our families and friends and ancestors. And we’re forced to confess that we, too, will end up here, sooner or later. We’re forced to confess that God himself ended up here one Friday afternoon 2,000 years ago.
But exactly here, where the victory and dominion of death is most vivid, where we can’t escape the remembrance of our own mortality, that the end for all of us is death, standing in the place where some of us will be buried, we remember that God has told us a secret. A secret that makes standing out here the sanest thing any of us could possibly be doing.
It starts almost in a whisper. Secrets usually do. A vision of a metaphor. A promise told sideways. Ezekiel is standing in a valley and that valley is filled with bones. And not just any bones, dry bones - bones that have been there a long time, that have long since been picked clean of any remnants of flesh, any memory of what it might have been like to be alive. And in that valley, Ezekial hears God say to him, "Can these bones live?"
Well, Ezekial knows better than to tell God what is and isn’t possible, even when the answer is as plain as that one. So he punts.
But at the command of God, he starts preaching to the dry bones - I’m glad I don’t have that assignment - and bit by bit, piece by piece, layer by layer the bones turn into full-on corpses. And then the corpses begin to breathe and stand up and there they were,
a vast army in that valley that used to just be bones.
Of course, that was a vision and a metaphor. It didn’t really happen. But it plants the seed, and it bears a promise: Just like those visionary bones stood up and became living people again, God says, “You, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them and settle you in your own land.” It’s just a whisper.
Not much, against the encroaching night of death. But we can hear it.
And then it gets a little louder. One time, it did really happen. One time, a dead body really did start to breathe again, the dead lungs began to expand and contract, the heart began to beat after days of lying still, the synapses, which had been quiet, began to fire again. Jesus of Nazareth suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. But just about right now, before dawn, the first day of the week, he was raised from the dead back to life. The women went to the tomb to find him, but he wasn’t there.
He’d gone ahead of them to Galilee, as we’ll hear at 11.
But that’s not the end of the story. Not just one person rose from the dead and that’s the end. One story to tell, one candle to hold against the coming night. No, the sunrise is here, and the shadows are being chased out. Because there’s one more part to this blazing secret of God’s. A promise. We find it this morning in Romans. Do you not know, says Paul, that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. And that’s what we’ll proclaim to all these graves, to these bodies buried here, these people who seem to have been defeated by death. You have been united with Christ in a death like his, but you will also certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. For you, too, bodies, brothers and sisters who rest in this graveyard, Christ will be your light. Dry bones though you might be, you too will shake off the chains of death like so much dust. Death has not won. Life has won.
And that victory will be eternal. Amen.