Sunday, April 7, 2024

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter - Ez 37:1-14


Easter 2

                                                                                      Ez 37:1-14



          World War I was characterized by trench warfare.  Unable to advance quickly due to the machine gun and massive artillery fire, both sides dug into the ground for protection.  They built elaborate trench systems that were protected by machine gun bunkers and barbed wire.

          The area between the two trench lines became a no man’s land.  Each side “went over the top” as they left their trench and launched frontal assaults.  These attacks produced little gain and resulted in massive casualties.

          A particularly grewsome aspect of this form of warfare was that in many areas, the bodies of killed soldiers were not recovered from no man’s land.  The dead of both sides were left where they had died to decompose.  Over time some became mere skeletons lying in the mud.  No man’s land was a place of death, strewn with those who had been slain.

          In the Old Testament lesson this morning, Ezekiel sees a similar scene.  He tells us, “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.” He sees a valley full of dry bones – like that of a great army that has been slain.

          Ezekiel was a priest who lived in the sixth century B.C.  He was part of a second small group of exiles that was taken to Babylon in 597 B.C.  Already these Judahites lived in exile even while Jerusalem and the temple still stood.  Then, God’s final judgment upon Judah for its unfaithfulness and idolatry arrived.  In 587 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed the temple, tore down the walls of the city, and took the majority of the population into exile.  Our text takes place after that event.

          Yahweh asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel answered that God knew whether this could happen. So God said to him, "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.”

          Ezekiel prophesied as commanded, and there was a rattling sound as bones came together, and then sinews, flesh and skin covered the bodies.  However, the prophet tells us that there was no breath in them.  They were not alive. So Yahweh told Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath.  When he did so, breath came into them, they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

          God explained to Ezekiel what he was seeing.  He said, “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.’”  The people despaired as they were in exile. They had no hope.

          However, Yahweh spoke a word of hope.  He said, “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.’”

          As Ezekiel saw the army that had been raised through his prophesying, God used resurrection as a metaphor to describe what he would do for Judah. They might seem dead.  But God would restore them and bring them back to their own land. He would give them life. 

          Yahweh did this in 538 B.C.  Unexpectedly, Cyrus and the Persians defeated the Babylonians.  The Persian king then issued a decree that the Judahites could return to their land and rebuild the temple. Cyrus and the Persians were God’s instrument to bring the people home.

          In our text resurrection is a metaphor for what God will do for the nation. Yet this metaphor applied to the nation points forward to what we are celebrating today.  Yahweh had identified the nation of Israel as his son.  In the same way, the Messiah, the descendant of King David, was identified as God’s son.  Jesus Christ was the Messiah sent by God.  He was Israel reduced to One as he fulfilled what the nation was supposed to be.

          Ezekiel sees a valley of dry, dead bones.  This image captures our spiritual condition.  Paul told the Ephesians that “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.”  We were dead in our sins.  We were dead from the moment we entered the world. Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  Sinful, fallen nature produces more sinful, fallen nature.

          From the first moment that our abilities begin to demonstrate themselves, so does the presence of sin in our lives.  Sin is inside us, just waiting to come out. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

          And the dry, dead bones of Ezekiel also capture how we feel as we live in this fallen world. Judah complains, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.”  The grind of life’s challenges wears us down.  We face ongoing health problems.  We have financial concerns and questions about our future.  We worry about our family and friends as they go through struggles.

          Because of the sin in our lives and in the fallen creation, God acted to provide us with salvation.  In the fullness of time he sent his Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Because of her marriage to Joseph who descended from King David, Jesus was the Christ.  He was the Messiah who descended from David.  He was the fulfillment of God’s promises for deliverance.

          Jesus Christ was the revelation of God’s love for us.  Yet as we saw on Good Friday this love was revealed by means of the cross.  It was revealed as God gave his sinless Son up to death. Paul told the Romans, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

          God is the just and holy God who punished our sin in Christ.  Because he has, they are no longer counted against us, and we have been reconciled with God.  Paul told the Corinthians, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

          Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death. Sin and death go together, and the full power of sin could not be overcome by death.  During this Eastertide we celebrate the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This is no metaphor as in our text, but the fulfillment as God raised the Son of God – Israel reduced to One.  God defeated death in the resurrection of Jesus.

We hear in our Gospel lesson how the risen Lord appeared in the midst of a locked room with his disciples.  He showed them his hands and his side as he demonstrated he was the same Lord with same body that they had known before his crucifixion.  He had the same body, but in the resurrection it had been transformed so that it can never die again.  In Jesus, the resurrection of the Last Day has begun – the resurrection that will be ours when Christ returns on the Last Day.

When we want to say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off,” the resurrection of Jesus gives us hope.  St. Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  We have a future because of Jesus.  It is a life where there will be no health problems or troubles of any kind.  This hope gives us encouragement and strength to keep going as we keep our eyes set on the risen Lord.

In our text Yahweh talks about putting his Spirit within the nation.  He had said in the previous chapter, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

          God has given you the Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism.  There you received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Spirit. Paul told the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The presence of the Spirit is the guarantee that you will share in Jesus’ resurrection on the Last Day. The presence of the Spirit also means that Christ’s resurrection power is already at work in your life.

          It is the Spirit who prompts and enables us to love and serve those around us. Paul told the Galatians, “through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Look for ways to help your spouse, your parent, your sibling, and your friend.  Do this, especially when it requires effort and sacrifice on your part.  Paul described the Christian life when he said, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

          On this Sunday we continue to rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord died on the cross in order to reconcile us to God.  He was raised from the dead in order defeat death.  His resurrection gives us hope in the midst of all circumstances.  We keep our eyes fixed on our risen Lord as his Spirit sustains us in the present.  We wait with hope knowing that we will share in Christ’s resurrection on the Last Day.   











No comments:

Post a Comment