Have you heard of an ossuary?
An ossuary is literally a box of bones – normally made out of stone.
In 1990 the ossuary of Caiaphas was discovered – he is the guy mentioned in today’s reading from Acts.
I remember reading about the discovery years ago, and being very excited.
Late last year, scholars revealed the discovery of a bread-box-sized-bone-box with some very interesting words written on top, the box said, “James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus.”
Obviously people got very excited. Could it be the limestone bone box of James, the brother and spiritual successor to Jesus of Nazareth in the Church of Jerusalem?
The box was found by accident by a scholar looking for ancient inscriptions. Apparently the owner – an engineer – had essentially discarded it — putting it in storage.
Well, it turns out that the latest tests confirm that the box and the writing on top are most likely the real thing. Not a fake. Not a fraud.
And it seems now that only the most jaded skeptics doubt the veracity of the object and the writing on top.
Interestingly, the influential archeologists and scientists who believe it is the actual bone box of the actual brother of the actual Jesus Christ – are all Jews!
It’s pretty amazing.
What’s even more amazing is what the writing on the stone bone box might really mean.
The seven words etched onto the hard cold surface of that limestone bone box say, “James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus.”
But maybe those seven words really mean, “Allelulia! Allelulia! The Lord is Risen Indeed!”
Maybe, the writing on the bone box of James is a lapidary witness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
For after all, in ancient Judea, death by crucifixion was the most humiliating and dishonorable way to die. In that world people believed that how you died was a reflection on your character. If Jesus’s life had simply ended in crucifixion, with no resurrection to justify his name — no one in their right mind would have written his name in a place of honor.
The cruel calculus of shame would have required that his name never be written or spoke again in his family.
Yes, this stone bone box could be an amazing find.
It could be like finding a new book of the Bible – but better. Because we would finally have an original manuscript. An original scrap of writing about Jesus – from what would have been his own time had he not died so young. We would have a piece of original text – a seven word book – with tacit implications about the resurrection. And this little seven word book of stone would have been written by a guy who probably knew Jesus’ brother – James.
James, one of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection.
James, who saw the flesh and bones of the risen Lord.
James, who witnessed to that Resurrection for thirty years, even when it cost him his life.
As you all might know, around the year 63 AD, James was put on trial by the High Priest – by Annaias. He was taken to the top of the temple, and asked to deny that Jesus was the Messiah.
Instead, James shouted as loud as he could, “Jesus is the Anointed One.”
And the High Priest pushed him off.
It is interesting that the fragment of a shattered bones was found inside the limestone bone box.
My friends, this kind of evidence, is about as good as we are ever going to see in a museum or read about in National Geographic.
It is written in stone – and it is rock solid.
But you know what? It just doesn’t matter.
This old limestone bone box is compelling evidence – but it is no Lost Ark – possessed of divine power.
The stone box that the engineer discarded has not become the chief cornerstone.
It is a bone box. And we must not seek the living among the dead.
The real witness to the living Christ is found in the flesh and bones of those who believe in the power of his name.
The real witness to the risen Christ is found in the sacrificial living of men like James – who had the name of Jesus on his lips — everyday that he was alive — not just written on his grave after he was dead.
The real witness to the risen Christ doesn’t keep the healing love of God hidden behind a stony façade, or buried in the ground.
In our reading from Acts today, we see the disciples are on put trial for believing – for healing in the name of Christ. They shout out bold and strong –”Yes! The good work we do is done only by the grace and power of a risen Lord and saviour.”
They say, “Yes it is I myself, and I believe in Him who died and rose for me.”
It reminds me of the old question:
“If you were put on trial for believing in Jesus Christ – would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Would it take two thousand years of digging, and an electron microscope to prove that you love Jesus?
Let us hope not.
For I believe that each one of us was born again by God to be the primary witness of God’s saving power for somebody else. I believe that somebody else in the world needs you to be the first one who shares the good news of God’s Son.
Your job and mine isn’t just to sit here quietly and believe.
We are not called to sit here with dignity and calmness and keep this faith to ourselves.
The church is not supposed to be a big stone box filled with neatly labeled bones.
Bones are not enough.
We must bring flesh to these bones of faith. We must bring blood. Hands. Feet. Passion. Heart.
The only commission we’ve got, is to go into all the world, proclaiming in Jesus’ name, that forgiveness, healing, and spiritual peace are available to anybody who seeks them.
The Lord said to us:
“Why are you frightened? Why do doubts arise in your hearts? See that it is I myself. You are witnesses to me.”