Have you ever felt the need to comment on something but find that you have no words to do so? That’s how I feel in this moment. The country weeps in the wake of the newly discovered mass-grave on the property of a Kamloops Residential School. Such things are what you expect to find in the despotic regimes of tyrannical rule. It is not something you picture occurring in the lush landscapes of British Columbia. The terrifying question is how many other graves like this exist.
As if nothing could make this discovery worse, this unmarked, secret grave is filled with the bones of over 215 children. This news makes my heart ache for so many reasons. As a human being, I am sickened that anyone could so consistently, and flippantly, discard the bodies of children. As a Canadian, I hate that my country so easily adopted practices and attitudes that destroyed Indigenous lives and communities. As someone raised in BC himself, I detest that Indigenous children were so de-valued, so unloved. Did no one consider, even for one moment, that the bodies of these lifeless children should be treated with even the smallest amount of decency and respect? Topping everything off, I feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment that Christian people, and the denomination that ran the school, could have so profoundly missed the point of the gospel.
Since the news of this discovery, I have been thinking a lot about Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. This is probably because the discovery was made a few days following our celebration of Pentecost, and I preached on this passage. Still, the picture of Ezekiel standing in a barren valley, looking upon a pit of lifeless bones, all strewn about, is hauntingly relevant for this time.
In this text, God’s Spirit leads Ezekiel to a valley filled with dry, exanimate bones. The bones are dry because they have laid in this spot for years, maybe even decades. The bones are long discarded, the people and families that once animated them long forgotten. It is a vision of hopelessness and despair. In response, The Spirit poses a question to the prophet, “Can these bones live?”
What if this is the precise question that we are asked today, as Canadians, as neighbours, as Christians? Can the bones of these children live again?
Yes, they can. These bones will live if we are willing to be affected by this discovery. These bones will move with life if we allow them to shock us out of our comfortable complacency, the pleasant but action-less lip service that we sometimes give to things like TRUTH and RECONCILIATION and JUSTICE. The bones will be an empowered force of God if we allow them to dismantle the long-standing and systemic denial of personhood that the Indigenous community frequently suffers under in our country.
Most importantly, these bones will live if we treat them, in death, with the respect they deserved in life; If we make the effort to uncover their names, their families, and their histories. These bones will live if we take the burden and cost upon ourselves to provide a proper and dignified burial.
But the bones of these children will never live so long as we see them as nothing more than a problem of the past. The bones will not move again if we see them as a footnote in a history text that we never read. If we refuse to let these bones reach out to us, we condemn them to be dry for eternity.
As I write this, I find myself applying this question to myself, asking whether my own bones can live. What if the Spirit’s question does not refer only to the bones of the children, but also to ours? What if our bones have become dry to decency and compassion? What if we have become so accustomed to those privileges that we label “rights”, that we have become desiccated to the ever-loving Spirit of God within us?
Can our bones live? They wont if we allow this discovery to simply be replaced by the next news cycle. Our bones will not live if we say “Well I didn’t do anything to those children!” Our bones will not live if we look at what is right and decide that it costs too much of our money or our time. Our bones will not live if we refuse to hold our superiors accountable. We will neve be spiritually alive so long as we refuse to join the Lord as he weeps beside the grave.
Ultimately, Ezekiel’s vision of the hopeless valley becomes a vision of a valley filled with life. The disconnected bones become a vast multitude, made alive by God’s Spirit. This occurs because Ezekiel interacts with the vision. He prophesies to the bones. He allows those bones to be a part of his faith experience, and he is ever changed for it. May we allow ourselves to enter into this current bone-filled valley. Although it may be uncomfortable, may we, under the Spirit’s leading, also speak to these bones, and allow them to speak to us. May we be changed by them, and by doing so, find ourselves changed by the animating Spirit of God.