Their corpses shall become food
for the birds of the air
and the wild animals of the earth.
— Jeremiah 24:20, NRSV
Last year I went with a friend to the Body Worlds exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It’s difficult to explain the odd mixture of fascination and repulsion I felt. The exhibit (for you uninitiated) consists of bodies that have been plasticized. Lest you think that this is nothing more than a medical exhibit, they try to be artistic in their displays.
My personal favorite (and I feel somewhat perverse admitting this) was the “X”. The person was completely peeled apart. Skin from muscle from organs from bones. The pieces were suspended to form a gigantic X—I suppose in homage to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
For those of you with uneasy digestive tracts, I’m sorry for that last image. I can never read Ezekiel 37 without visualizing it in the context of the Body Worlds exhibit now!
. . .
I love the humility of Ezekiel. He knows that his words don’t matter. God tells him what to prophecy in vv. 4-6. When it comes time for Ezekiel to actually open his mouth and speak, our only record is: “I prophesied as I had been commanded” (v. 7, NRSV).
If a modern day prophet were recounting such an incredible experience, I could see it being cast in a different form: “God told me to prophesy to the bones, so I said…”. Not so with Ezekiel. God’s words and subsequent power and authority to raise the dead were all that mattered.
. . .
Ezekiel witnessed Body Worlds in reverse. Instead of seeing the bodies torn apart, he watched as they came together: sinew, flesh, and skin. This is significant.
The epigraph from Jeremiah states a common curse in the ancient world. Cursed was anyone left unburied. All the bones of the Israelites that Ezekiel had stumbled through were considered cursed because they were not properly buried. God determined to reverse that curse in a miraculous way. Never mind proper burials—why not bring them to new life?
This story resonates with the life of Jesus. Anyone who died strung up on a tree was cursed—the Old Testament makes that clear. Jesus was crucified on a tree, taking the curse of God on himself only to die under it and defeat evil through his death.
The dry bones died a cursed death only to be raised to new life by the breath of God; Jesus experienced the same thing.
All that was left for these bodies was breath.
. . .
Living God, you have blown on my sin-bleached bones and made me live. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.