Here is the sermon I gave On April 2nd at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church for the 5th Sunday of Lent. Introduction illustration and general outline from Concordia Pulpit Resources.
Europe has some of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in the world. Built centuries ago, these structures display how architecture and theology came together to give an ongoing witness to the unsurpassed beauty of Christ and His work to redeem sinful humankind.
Underneath these magnificent cathedrals, you can find large crypts that appear very different from the beautiful structures above. But beauty comes in different forms. Beyond the formal crypts with the vaults of kings and queens and other nobility, you will 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 as far back as the eye can see. Here the dead rest, waiting for the resurrection from the dead.
We confess every Sunday in the creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. But how can dead bones live? The prophet Ezekiel was given a vision not unlike the crypts of European cathedrals: A pile of dry lifeless bones. Through this vision, the Lord shows Ezekiel exactly how dead bones are raised to life.
Where did the dry bones come from? The answer is simple, verse 11 says that the dry bones are the whole house of Israel. Through transgression of God’s law the people of Israel suffered the fate of death.
Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of the Babylonian captivity. Israel’s disobedience brought the fall of their nation and exile to the land of Babylon. Through this ruthless conquest dead bones were an all too common sight to Israel.
What was once a great nation has now become a pile of lifeless bones. A few verses after our reading ends, we hear how Israel’s bones were dried of God’s Spirit because of their sinfulness. They were both physically and spiritually lifeless.
As Ezekiel gazed on this overwhelmingly hopeless landscape, an entire valley of dry bones, God asks him a question. “Son of man, can these bones live?” By human reason the obvious answer is that these bones cannot live.
Ezekiel cautiously affirms the possibility that God can make them live. Even while Israel was hopelessly lost in their sin and suffering the consequences of exile, God indeed had a plan to restore Israel.
God asks Ezekiel to speak His word to the lifeless bones, to offer this prophecy: “O dry bones hear the Word of the Lord, thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin, and put breath in you and you shall live and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
I love how God describes the specific steps by which He makes the lifeless bones take form and flesh and eventually the breath of life. What seems impossible suddenly becomes a reality, finalized by the gift of the breath and Spirit of God.
Not only does God physically restore Israel in giving them life, but He also restores them spiritually by bringing them back to the land of Israel. Listen to God’s words in Ezekiel chapter 36: “Thus says the Lord God, on the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited and the waste places shall be rebuilt.”
As dramatic a reversal as this reading describes, even today God breathes life into us. The Spirit of God breathes life in us through the cleansing of our sins. Although we haven’t experienced the violent conquest of our nation seen in Ezekiel’s day- we ourselves have been broken and exiled from God’s presence through our sin.
The dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision are the whole house of Israel, including the New Israel in the Church. Because of our sinfulness we become dried of our spirit. Because of our sin, one day our bones will also become dry bones. Our disobedience of God’s law causes not only physical death, but spiritual separation from God as well.
By God’s grace we are saved from this death. His Spirit blows into us and brings us back to life. In Christ we are spiritually restored, which means we also will one day be physically restored. On the last day our bodies will be raised from the dead just as Christ was raised from the dead.
Just as we heard about dry bones coming to life step by step, bone to bone, sinews, flesh and skin- so also God gives us the gift of life, step by step. The Holy Spirit breathes life into us through first through the means of the waters of Baptism and then through the life giving words of the Holy Spirit found in the scripture.
His breath of life comes to us as we receive the words of forgiveness, in worship and in our own personal prayers of repentance. Through the Lord’s Supper our faith is strengthened as His very body and blood is given to us to renew us with His Spirit.
It doesn’t seem possible that something as simple as an application of water on our heads at one time and a hearing of God’s Word another time with our ears, a tasting of the gifts of the Lord’s Supper with our mouths should be the means by which the breath of God’s Spirit enters us and continues to give us life day by day. – And yet this is what Christ has instituted in His church.
Jesus has come not just for our deliverance on the last day, but so that though the gospel that we would live in hope today. Maybe you feel like parts of your life are hopeless, unfixable, kind of like dry bones.
Have you been emotionally hurt in a close relationship before in your life where you don’t think you will ever be able to fully trust another person again, or even the person who has hurt you if that relationship has still continued in a less than ideal manner?
Through the power of the forgiveness we have in Christ what feels like a lost cause, whether a family relationship, a friendship or a marriage, can live and thrive again. For when the divine gift of forgiveness is imparted into our relationship, barriers that divide us fall away.
Do you struggle or know someone in your life who struggles with an addiction that feels unbreakable? Does it seem like the conscience that should say no to what is clearly not right is now dead in a particular area of life? Through the power of the Holy Spirit, what seems like a dead conscience can come to life.
Maybe you feel your ability to pray and focus on God’s Word is not what it used to be. You feel less than optimistic about your ability to grow spiritually or feel distracted by some particular reoccurring concerns in life. By the power of the Holy Spirit your prayer and devotion life can be renewed.
Instead of feeling that you are failing God for not being able to focus, The Spirit can breathe life into you so that you start to experience time with God’s Word or time reflecting on God’s promises to you in prayer as time of celebrating and recognizing how Jesus upholds you in your life with his forgiveness and love.
In our gospel reading we see how even as Lazarus had died and rested in the tomb for four days, Jesus was able to give him new life. How much more is God’s Word able to bring new life to us through the promise that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
During the time of the Babylonian exile Israel had lost so much, but the prophecy of Ezekiel brought hope to a troubled people. Their journey was long. Their lives, like dry bones were with little faith in what God would do for them.
Yet God brought hope through the prophet’s words as the bones came together and were resurrected from their dry state. Then God put His breath into these dry bones, giving them life just as he did with man’s original creation.
The church is finishing her journey this Lenten season as we wait for the passion, cross, and resurrection of our Lord. It is only in Christ that the Church finds her hope, in Christ who dies on the cross and after three days rises from the dead.
Like the bones of those who have gone before us, our bodies will come together in the end. God’s Spirit gives life now and will give life at the Last Day. On the last day our graves will be opened and our bodies will be raised, where we will join with all the saints in the presence of our eternal God.