Thursday, July 24, 2008

Land of the Living

Catacombs have never really interested me, partly because I never took the time to think about their significance or purpose, but recently I did. Scattered throughout the catacombs are (Now, this is my account from tv and pictures, and readings, I have never been there) various drawn artwork of daniel in the lion's den, and the resurrection of Lazarus. It's haunting to realize that the people and artists, who occupied the catacombs, were experiencing persecution. On a regular basis they would find their friends or themselves being torn apart at parties by wild animals, or impaled and lit on fire to light gatherings, just to entertain the Romans. They never fled.

There are more dead people than there are living.

"Late in the 17th century city growth in Paris, both in population and urban expansion, as well as the slow accumulation of generations of the dead had begun to overwhelm Parisian cemeteries. The largest cemetery in Paris, Les Innocents, was so saturated it began to affect those in surrounding neighborhoods. Residents began to suffer from diseases due to improper burials. For centuries, French officials condemned the cemetery to no avail. In 1786, officials decided to exhume the entire cemetery as well as other cemeteries in the city and to take the bones into the now abandoned tunnels of the rock quarries beneath the city. This was a process that would take two years to complete and moved an estimated six million bodies."

Scattered throughout the catacombs are plaques that remind living visitors of their own mortality. Though I have not been there to see it, I have read that as one exits the catacombs a plaque by the door offers a word to the bones:

Listen, dry bones
Listen to the voice of the Lord
The powerful God of our ancestors
Who in one breath created them
Will re-tie your undone knots
You will have new flesh
On which new skin will form
Dry bones, you will live again

We are bit of a long way in getting here, but I imagine that all of those bones – six million bodies worth – is something akin to what Ezekiel saw as he looked out across the valley of dry bones. (ezekiel 37) There scattered across the valley lay countless bones, lifeless, and windswept. Then, in classic Ezekiel fashion, which is to say something we would accuse someone of being high for seeing, or doing, Ezekiel begins to talk to the dry bones on God’s behalf. He calls out to the bones to get up, order themselves into skeletons. Ligaments, muscles, and tendons attach themselves to the bones and organs, skin, hair, teeth and eyes grow over the body. Ezekiel has commanded the bones to get up and to become a field of…well, zombies. You see, though they had all the attributes of a living being, they lacked that most basic of spiritual elements, breath. So Ezekiel calls the breath of God to come and from the four corners of the earth the breath fills their lungs and they are alive.

For Ezekiel, such pictures were wonderful object lessons. This is Israel. A people windswept and lifeless, all dried up. They are a people without a hope of living again; a people who live and yet do not live, zombies, in a foreign land. However, there is hope. God will bring them back from the grave and God will give them a new spirit and a new life. God will restore them to the land of the living.

Maybe that's why they never fled. Whats worse than death?

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