Ezekiel 37:1-14 (Fifth Sunday in Lent—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 10, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Ezekiel 37:
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, 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.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had 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 the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: 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. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”
When was the last time you felt like the people of Israel? When was the last time you felt like, “My bones are dried up. My hope is lost. I feel so cut off.” How often do you and I, because of events and situations in our lives, feel like a heap of dried up bones without any life in us? Maybe we find ourselves depressed or angry, and those emotions take all the energy out of us. Perhaps we are worriers. We know how completely exhausting worry can be. It sucks the life right out of us.
We can relate to the people of Israel who were in captivity in Babylon. The Babylonian armies had destroyed their capital, Jerusalem. They had conquered and pillaged the land of Israel and had deported most of the people to Babylon. What did they have left? No capital city, no temple, no land, no existence. Israel as God’s People appeared as good as dead.
The dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision stand in for “the whole house of Israel.” The once great nation has first been divided, the conquered by the Assyrians and then the Babylonians, and finally dispersed. For the Israelites, the hope of restoration of their great nation was a lost dream. Their lives, like the dry bones, were with little faith in what God could and would do for them. Consider the reason that Israel was sent away into exile and you will better understand the true dryness of their bones.
“. . . Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘For twenty-three years, . . . to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the LORD persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, ‘Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.’ Yet you have not listened to me, declares the LORD, that you might provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm. Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction . . . . This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.’” (Jeremiah 25:2-12)
Israel’s disobedience had brought both physical and spiritual death upon them. We can understand the suffering of Israel and how they must have felt in exile. We have felt dried up and cut off from God, at times, too. And yes, we also understand the dryness of the soul, the spiritual separation from God that we once experienced.
You and I are sinners, and that fact cannot be denied or glossed over as unimportant. There is none of this popular notion that people are “basically” good. We are “basically” far from good. What does David tell us in God’s Word in Psalm 51:5? “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” St Paul echoes this very truth in Romans 3:12, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Not only are we by nature “not good,” the whole creation itself has been torn apart by sin. Nothing is as it should be in this world because the perfect world that God created for us has been subjected to sin. Sickness and pain, disease and depression are all effects of sin in the world that impact our lives. What’s more, there is the ultimate consequence of sin—death. Our bones will one day be dead, dry bones because of our sin. “The souls that sins will die.”
So we daily face the consequences of sin and its effects on us. We daily sin much and must deal with the pain and suffering our own sins cause in our lives. We are emotionally damaged, physically hurting, mentally strained, and spiritually dried up like a valley full of very dry bones. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off!” Or, to put it in Paul’s words in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Who, you ask? The Lord Yahweh will. Today through the vision He gave to Ezekiel, the Lord leads us into His Word as shows us that valley full of bones. And He asks us, “Can these bones live again?” We look at those dry bones and ponder the question. We look at our dry bones, our physical, spiritual, and emotional bones so dried out because of sin and sins consequences. It looks bleak. It looks hopeless. But as Ezekiel didn’t dismiss the possibility of those dry bones living again, neither should we. “O Lord Yahweh, you know.”
God replies, “Yes, I do know. I restored Israel and brought them back to life by grace through the Holy Spirit. I delivered Israel from captivity and I cleansed them from their sins as the Spirit breathed new life into them. And so I also, by My grace, have saved you and brought you back to life by My Spirit.”
While you and I were still sinners, God sent us Jesus, His only Son, to be our Savior by dying in our place. Jesus gave up His life into death, our death, on the cross so that we might have forgiveness of all our sins and rescue from death itself. Through Jesus’ death on the cross we are spiritually restored, revived, resurrection from the death of sin by His cleansing blood which was shed for us.
It is the Holy Spirit of God who breathes this new life into us sinners. It is the Holy Spirit who washes us with the blood of Jesus, gives us faith to trust in Jesus as our personal Savior from all sin, from death, and from the devil’s power. The Spirit breathes into our spiritually dry bones the very life of Christ through God’s Word, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Through God’s Word and the water in Baptism we become one with Christ in His death and resurrection. Our sins are forgiven and we receive a new life of faith and love toward God and one another. Daily our Lord puts the breath of eternal life in us through His Gospel which we receive in His Word, the Bible, and in His true Body and Blood with the bread and the win in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Through these means of grace, the Holy Spirit continues to strengthen our Baptismal faith and sustain us in our trust in Jesus and gives us the power and ability to live lives holy and pleasing to God.
Then, on the Last Day, when Jesus our Savior comes again in glory, we will be physically resurrected from death just as Christ was raised from the dead on Easter morning. Did you hear His promise to Martha in our Gospel lesson? “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he died, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Like the bones of God’s people who have died in the Christian faith before us, our bones will come together, our bodies will be raised from the dust of the earth and live again in everlasting life with Jesus who is Resurrection and Life.
It is the new life of the Holy Spirit that is given to us in Word and Sacrament that sustains us day to day. It is the new life of forgiveness and peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ that enables us to face the events and situations of this life. We can look depression, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness in the eyes and say, “You have no hold on me. I am forgiven in Christ and His Holy Spirit dwells in me. My life is not hopeless, but hope-filled! I am alive in Christ and it is He who gives me strength when my bones are dried up. It is Jesus through His Spirit that revives my soul and fills me with good things through His Word and Sacraments—forgiveness, life, salvation, and blessings so abundant that my cup overflows. And I know for certain that when I die, I will be with Christ in paradise and, at the Last Day, my body will be raised from the dead and I, in body and soul, will be given eternal life with Jesus in the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness.” Amen.