THE BLOG • by Pastor Ken Rickett
For years and years I lived in a parsonage that was located beside the church facility or across the street from it. When my boys were small, autumn outdoor decorations at our house meant several hay bales with a pile of gourds and a few pumpkins in front of hay. We usually had a shock of corn stalks provided by a farmer in the church…not really Halloween decor! Granted, we got lots of compliments on the autumn displays! For Halloween night we always made jack-o-lanterns lit by candles inside of them. We were very aware of the general public’s ambivalence (and a few church members, not always in my congregation) toward ministers who went “all out” for Halloween. We were quite “low key” with Halloween! As for skeletons…no hint of bones.
But the years have rolled by. Now that I am retired, my yard is full of skeletons (nine of them), a “cemetery”, and a “Great Pumpkin” up in a tree serving as our sentry. Two of our skeletons are sword-fighting, two are witches kneeling over a black washpot with a cat skeleton lurking nearby, two are sitting in our swings (one is petting a dog skeleton), one tall skeleton holding a scythe stands by the mailbox, one “human” skeleton is walking a dog skeleton, and a child skeleton is riding a tricycle. Our front porch is wrapped in spider webs with several plastic spiders. Mind you, much of this display is lit with eerie lighting at night. All of this is a courtesy of one of our sons. The bones are on full display!
Let me be clear. Several of the congregations I served held “Trunk or Treat” events in which Halloween candies were distributed from the trunks of vehicles in the parking lot and children in the church and community would stroll by, holding out their bags for treats. Halloween was not ignored. Occasionally a car trunk would be decorated with a skeleton, bones of the dead.
Real skeletons have a tendency to last years, if not centuries, after death, but they eventually “go back to the earth.” I have taken the Big Y 700 DNA test, and not only does those results enable a person to identify the more recent ancestors, but sometimes, if a portion of an ancient skeleton survives and is discovered in an archeological dig, a specific gene may show up that you also share with this ancient skeleton.. This doesn’t mean that you are a direct descendant, rather it shows that somehow you share a common ancestor who could have lived thousands of years earlier. One surprising result of my DNA test revealed that I share a genetic marker with some ancient bones found by archaeologists. For example, I share a genetic marker identified in the DNA of skeletal remains found in Skara, Sweden, who lived in the Viking Age sometime between 900-1200 AD. I do not descend from this person, but we do share a common ancestor who lived centuries before 900 AD. Not only that, of persons worldwide who have taken the BIG Y DNA, as of this week I am one of only 109.persons who share this genetic marker with this Swedish Viking!
Another example, I share a genetic marker with the DNA taken from the skeletal remains dug in Pericel, Romania who lived around 1500 in the medieval age and it is likely that we both descend from a common ancestor who lived about 2050 BC (before Christ)! Bones do “talk” through DNA!
Nevertheless, it is not my intent to write a “Halloween” article (although it may be apt for the season), but rather to share some thoughts…. about skeletons.
Family secrets, especially when something is awry, are described as “skeletons in the closet.” Yeah, bones that we don’t often hear about! In genealogy, I ran across a few skeletons! As a child and teenager, every spring my family went to a small cemetery of a few graves that was literally out in the forest. One person buried there was one of my great, great grandfathers who fought briefly for the Confederacy, deserted and came to Pendleton, Madison County, Indiana, where he lived briefly before joining the 8th Indiana. After the war, he married in Knox County, Indiana in 1868 and they settled in Evansville, Indiana. In 1879, he felt that it was safe to move back to the mountains of Western North Carolina. He died in 1900 and was buried in this small cemetery in the middle of nowhere. I have been to that grave at least 12-15 times. THEN while researching this family recently, I ran across a newspaper interview written a few decades ago in Kansas (ca. 1940s). The person interviewed was one of the sons of this great-great-grandfather, and this son had moved to Kansas as a young man.. My eyes popped out of my head! Here was a story I had never been told! My great-great-grandfather had been killed by a southern sympathizer in 1900, 35 years after the Civil War was over! But that wasn’t the real shock! That interview also stated that the sons and a few select family of this great-great-grandfather had “taken care of” the assailant! Now, there’s a “skeleton in the closet!”
In college, writing book reviews became a chore in some classes. I sometimes struggled with such assignments…. until I spoke privately with my English professor. When she said to me. “I just want the skeleton, not the flesh!”, the light came on! If a designated book was fiction, the professor wanted the plot. If the book was non-fiction such as an essay, then I needed to lay bare the basic argument, but if history, then the impact of the actual events became primary. I learned to write about bones.
An entrepreneur opens a new business with a “skeleton crew”, meaning that the smaller number of employees will have to assume a variety of duties. Until the business strives, it is also on a “bare bones” budget. But the only bones that matter are the bones which God gives life (ZOE), Yeah, one of the most colorful stories in the Old Testament is Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezek. 37). The Lord led Ezekiel to this valley in which Ezekiel walked “around and around”, awed by the immensity of bones that were “very, very dry.” These were very ancient bones scattered all over the valley. Just imagine! Human bodies have over 200 bones. When the Lord commanded Ezekiel to preach to the bones, each bone came together with its bones, and a mighty army of complete, but lifeless, skeletons filled the Valley. The poet James Weldon Johnson captured this image with the catchy song “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, dem bones gonna rise again!”
The Lord commanded Ezekiel to preach a second sermon and each skeleton suddenly became covered in muscle and skin…but still lifeless. The Lord commanded Ezekiel to preach a third sermon, and the breath of life entered every skeleton, and they were living beings. What an army filled with new life! “Dem Bones” had arisen! Ezekiel was “preaching” to the Israelites in Babylonian exile. They lost hope and had become very dry. The belief in those days was that God was attached to the land, and once the Israelites were taken captive by the invading Babylonian army, they thought that God no longer favored them. Ezekiel’s vision about bones gave hope precisely because it pictured a God who was indeed with them…even in captivity! Even in an unknown and uncertain future! Even in eternity!
Frankly, Ezekiel’s vision was not a vision of individual persons rising to new life, rather Ezekiel spoke of the whole people of God, a mighty army, Israel, rising to new hope, to new awareness of their relationship with God, to new and deeper fulfillment as God’s people, and yes, to eternal life (ZOE) with God. This vision comes to complete fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Our bones, as believers, will not dry out in a parched and isolated land, but shall be raised to new and everlasting life.
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones – dem bones gonna rise again!”