by Dave Skipper
We are well-versed in the sounds of death: the gunshot, the scream, the thud, the sigh. Weeping, groaning, wailing. The inexorable descent into silence.
We are also familiar with the sounds of life’s beginnings: the gasp, the first breath, the cry, the splutter. Weeping, groaning, laughing. The journey into sound underway.
But our categories of sounds for the great reversal – of death being directly overturned into life – are woefully absent. Resurrection is not only something we don’t experience in our daily life, but it is a notion denied and dismissed by many as impossible. For Christians, however, the reality of resurrection is the touchstone of our faith. Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, victorious over the grave, our final resurrection on the last day unto eternal life is a hope assured. And we receive a foretaste of that new life in spiritual rebirth, as we are already identified with Christ through the new spirit and new mind he gives. But the physical resurrection of our bodies, new bodies which will never see decay, will see the climax of resurrection truth actualised.
It is not my purpose in this article to defend or analyse these beliefs; instead, I want to pose the question: what kind of noise characterises and accompanies the resurrection from the dead?
There are several Bible passages that give insights into this question. In this article I will consider just one of them, and it is one of the most vivid and extraordinary prophetic passages in the whole Bible. It depicts a vision, to be sure, but a vision that points to future fulfilment. The balance between metaphor and literal description regarding the details of this vision and its fulfilment is again not my direct concern here.
The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’
I said, ‘Sovereign LORD, you alone know.’
Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.” ’
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.” ’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.
Let’s imagine the progression of sounds as the vision unfolds…
- Death. The scene starts with a grim sight: a valley full of dry bones. Deathly silence presses all around. Maybe there is some rustling from a breeze, or even a strong wind occasionally howling through the valley, but the vibe remains eerie and uneasy.
- Bones. When they start to rattle and come together, it must have made a right racket! Their noise is dry, percussive, and dense. Close-up scrapings merge into an expansive backdrop of clatterings as skeletons start to form near and far. The bizarre sounds amplify the macabre and surreal sight into a mesmerising sensory commotion, further exacerbated by the valley context echoing the rattles back and forth.
- Flesh. The sight turns grotesque now as tendons and flesh appear on the bones. It’s the stuff of nightmares and horror fiction, yet the sense of something wonderfully profound pervades. Quite what this is all about is as yet unclear. The noise is organic and unique. The rattling is gradually muffled and muted, giving way bone by bone to the subtle strains of stretching sinews and squidgy flesh. Blood and juices are not fully contained in these skinless forms, so dripping and spattering sounds punctuate the arid land/soundscape.
- Skin. As skin covers the flesh a mix of encroaching dread and heart-thumping wonder emanates from Ezekiel’s pores. The countless bodies are still lifeless, dead beings de-decomposed into physical fullness minus the movement and vibrancy of blood coursing through their veins. Prior sounds disseminate and wane back towards the prior silent epoch, but the weird rattlings live on in lucid memory, and the air is now charged with mystery and anticipation. The gentle quiet echoes imperceptibly.
- Breath. Next, as the breath of God animates these people into life, the astonishing climax is revealed. Inharmonic animation. Granular murmurings. Breathy, breezy, windy textures. Barely audible exhalations, stuttering rhythms of lungs learning to fill and release again, heavy gasps as the air is gulped in. Coughs and groans give way to exclamations and shouts. A growing cacophony of unutterable joy being uttered by an exhilarated throng. The density of new energy bursts forth in whoops, cheers, and shouts from the depths of a thousand bellies. Tears of ecstasy stream down myriad faces as the truth of this final and total resurrection life is felt and known in the flesh.
- Army. Finally, this miracle multitude raise their voices and stomp their feet in a beautiful chaos of polyrhythmic, arrhythmic, immeasurably layered, majestic, fractal glory. This is an army to end all armies, casting their shouts to heaven like no army of man ever did or could. A holy ruckus of the highest order! Again the power of reverberation comes to the fore, the surrounding mountains and cliffsides adding yet more voices again and again and again. An army that knows victory over death, and army that knows peace with the Eternal Sovereign God of all. An army defined by grace and destined to make the greatest noise in history.
This progression initially has unmistakable shades of the creation of the first man Adam, from dust to body to breath:
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
from the Bible – Genesis 2:7
But in Ezekiel’s vision it lurches far beyond Adam to the second Adam who is Jesus Christ. Whereas Adam and all humanity fell into sin and death and decay, abdicating our mandate to rule righteously over the earth as God’s representatives, this resurrected army will fulfill that role in the perfection of the eternal new heavens and new earth, in fullness of love, joy, and peace. The promise of Christ’s death and resurrection is the promise of fulfilling the calling to be in that mighty multitude as a purified servant of the King of Kings who has conquered the grave.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet’. Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ… So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.”
from the Bible – 1 Corinthians 15:20-27, 45
Even Job, centuries before Christ, looked forward to that final day:
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
from the Bible – Job 19:25-27
So, what could a creative crafting of the concept of ‘resurrection noise music’ be like? Ezekiel presents one model: sounds of death and desolation morphing through surprising and ostensibly grotesque noise into a crescendo of life-infused battle-ready hordes, victory guaranteed over all the forces of darkness and decay. It’s time to use our imagination! Creative sound art taking inspiration from Ezekiel’s vision is something I’d love to try out and to hear others take on.
Engraving of “The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones” by Gustave Doré, public domain:
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!