5th Sunday in Lent (A)
April 2, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
One day I hope I am lucky enough to visit the churches of Europe. Europe has some of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in the world which are stepped in history. Underneath these magnificent cathedrals, you can find large crypts that appear very different from the beautiful structures above. Beyond the burial vaults of kings, queens, and other dignitaries, you’ll find the bone rooms. In an endless maze of tunnels lie the bones of thousands and thousands of people. Skulls are stacked from floor to ceiling and as far back as one can see. Here they rest, waiting for the resurrection of the dead. Every Sunday we confess we believe in “the resurrection of the body.” But how can dead bones live? The prophet Ezekiel was given a vision that wasn’t much different, a pile of dry, lifeless bones. Through this vision, the Lord shows Ezekiel that the Spirit of God breathes life into dead, dry bones.
The Lord gave Ezekiel this vision as he languished with tens of thousands of other people in exile in Babylon, which is modern day Iraq. Israel had been a great nation, secure and successful, but they’ve been defeated and what they once were is now only a dim memory. As the Lord walks Ezekiel through the piles of dead, dry bones He explains, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” As the Babylonian army swept across Israel, they had left a wake of death and destruction, and dead bones were a common sight. The Lord isn’t just talking about physical death though, He also tells Ezekiel it’s because of their sinfulness. They were sinning against Him, they were irreverent towards Him, so He punished them. Still, they didn’t stop, so God disciplined them even more. In the end, their disobedience brought physical and spiritual death.
As the people sit far from home they believe that God has forgotten them. They cry, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.” They are completely hopeless. The great thing about God, well there’s a bunch of great things, but what’s fitting here is that God is going to give them hope. God’s chosen people rejected Him and yet because He is gracious and loving, He’s going to bring them back to life. As Ezekiel walked among the bones, the idea of life was far from his mind. But when God asks, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel doesn’t say, “Of course not!”, he replies, “Lord, you know.”
Ezekiel is going to preach to the dead bones, and in what can only be a miracle, the bones will hear. They will receive muscles, skin, and life all so that they will know that God is Lord. They will be restored to life when seventy years later they would be allowed to come home. And they are spiritually restored because God says to them, “I will cleanse you from all your sins.” It’s the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, who breathes life into them, giving them forgiveness and hope.
In Colossians, Paul reminds Christians that we were dead in our sins. Because of our sins, we were exiled from God’s presence. We didn’t have access to Him, we were hopeless and lost. In his vision, God tells Ezekiel that the bones are “the whole house of Israel” and this means us. We’re not part of the Old Israel, we’re part of the New Israel, the Church. We are dead, dried bones because of our sinfulness and one day we’ll be like all the bones under European cathedrals and in Ferguson Cemetery. Our disobedience to God has brought to us both spiritual and physical death. We are part of that valley of dead bones.
We are part of that valley and this means that we are saved by God’s grace too. The breath of the Holy Spirit that fills the bones and gives them life, gives us life as well. God remained gracious to us, even while we were still sinners by sending Christ to die in our place. Jesus died, and yet where our bones were broken and scattered by our sin, not one of His bones was broken. Where our bodies begin to decay as soon as life leaves them, His body never did. He died, He completely died, but as the Son of God He completely conquered Death and Sin.
So now, God’s great grace comes to you and restores you. You are first spiritually restored because you are forgiven. You have been called out of sinful exile back to God and you have that loving relationship once again. It’s seems unbelievable that the bones in the vision could live, but by God’s power they do. It seems unbelievable that in Jesus’ death you have life, but by God’s power you do. Because you have spiritual life, you can have the hope that you will be physically restored on the Last Day, when your bodies are raised from the dead just as Christ was raised from the dead. The Lord promises, “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.” The sight of God’s people coming out of the graves is going to be incredible, and I can’t wait for that day. Until that day the Holy Spirit breathes life into us dead sinners through the earthly means of Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. These give us the benefits of Christ’s work to us and they give us life. They restore our spiritual life that we can look forward to our eternal, physical life.
We are drawing near to the end of our Lenten journey as we draw ever closer to the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord. It’s only in Christ that the Church finds her hope, in Christ who dies on the cross and after three days rises from the dead. This is your hope for you became a follower of Christ on the day you were baptized into Him. Through water and the Word, you became one with Him in His death and resurrection. Every day our Lord puts the breath of life into you through the Gospel, forgiving your sins and making you new. By God’s grace you can have hope and a new life centered on God who is your Lord. God’s Spirit gives life now and will give life at the Last Day, when our graves will be opened and our dry bones raised to be united with our redeemed and forgiven souls in heavenly splendor. As the Lord tells Ezekiel and each of you, “I have spoken and I will do it.”
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen