Fr. Terry Gatwood: Can These Bones Live?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Lent 5A, April 2, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Ezekiel 37.1-14; Psalm 130.1-7; Romans 8. 6-11; John 11.1-45.

God takes Ezekiel to go and look at something. What this something is absolutely would have startled the Prophet as he looked out across this valley to which the Lord had brought him. As far as his eye could see there existed a grizzly sight. An horrific sight. Down in the valley, laying in piles and scattered around, were the bones of his fellow countrymen. They’re bright white from being bleached in the harsh desert sunlight, and they are so very dry. There’s nothing left on these bones, as the animals would have already come and picked these bones clean of any flesh they had on them. This scene is the stuff of nightmares. The total carnage present is troublesome, to say the least about it.

It’s a view that would bring to anyone’s mind feeling and thoughts of utter hopelessness, as if there is nothing that can be done besides sit down and weep bitterly. For here before him is a vision of his own people, completely dead, there bodies desecrated having been left out for the animals to devout. And now there very bones are brittle and dry. What was Ezekiel to do with this scene?

“Son of man, can these bones live?” Asks the Lord. What is Ezekiel to say after having seen this, and having known from his experience with his own people who had some sort of moral agency refusing at the prophets call to turn back toward the Lord even while they’re in the midst of their exilic discipline in Babylon? Ezekiel stands there, confused, not really knowing if he can come up with an appropriate answer to the Lord. So, he says: “O Lord God, you know.” For, truly, only the Lord God does know if these bones can have life within them again. From Ezekiel perspective this valley is a testament to a lost hope for any sort of restoration and salvation. But God responds: “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.”

As Ezekiel opened his mouth and began to preach to the bones there came a rattling from the valley. Bones clanking on bones, making an ugly sound as they shake up against each other in their dry state. It must have been a terrifying sound that would scare the most courageous of people. But Ezekiel keeps on prophesying to these bones as and they begin to come together in an awesome scene. Each bone finding its mates, connecting together in their perfect places, sinews and muscle and skin begins to form upon them. The dry, lifeless, hopeless bones have been brought back to life by God’s command, and by the breath of God being breathed back into them. They have been saved, they have been revived. This is an amazing vision of what God intends to do with Israel. There will be a resurrection and a restoration, and God’s spirit will be in them. God will be there God, and they his people again. And the promise from chapter 11 comes back around: “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

Jesus, in our Gospel lesson is headed toward the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus has taken quite ill, and on the way to his house Lazarus sadly dies. He is only resting, Jesus says. But Martha says had only Jesus been able to make it in time her brother might have been saved.

Death is the great equalizer that we all wrestle with as we lose those whom we love. Here in the Gospel lesson we hear this from the ancients the same thing we have to go through. We are all created beings, gaining our breath from the very source of our existence: God. And when his breath is withdrawn from one amongst us it causes great distress and sadness. For we are all mortal, travelling together in this world knowing that someday one of us may no longer be present to experience the goodness of the world together, to help each other through the tough times, to laugh and cry together, and to just be present with one another in the mundane. People were made for fellowship with other people. When one of us is missing it’s troubling.

Today the Scripture lesson is an acknowledgement of this. One of theirs is not with them physically. He has been called out from this life and into the next. And while this leaves them, just like us, with an inward pain that weighs down on the heart, none should lose hope. For he is not only in their memories this day, known to them alone who will one day join him in their own mortality, but he is known by the Eternal Memory of God. His memory never fades nor fails, and he remembers each one of his dearly loved children whom he has created. And here, in their grief, just like in yours, he understands and seeks to bring comfort during this time after Lazarus’ passing.

Then Jesus hits her with the full message of the truth that we have heard so many times. Listen to these words afresh in your hearts and minds: “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.” “Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’” “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Jesus wept with these grieving loved ones. Ordering the stone removed away from the entrance to the tomb, Jesus was warned that Lazarus had been dead for four days and the putrid smell of the body beginning to decompose has already become present. Praying first to his Father, Jesus turns toward the opened tomb and, with a loud voice says, “Lazarus, come out!” And out he walks, still wrapped in his burial cloths. Many who had saw this miraculous thing happen believed in Jesus. While this was an amazing thing, Lazarus was again to die someday. But this moment acted as a foretaste of what was to come in Jesus own death and resurrection, when his Father would call him out of the grave, solidifying for us our own resurrection when the time comes.

How about us? What do we believe? Can these bones live again? Will we? Will we find ourselves in a promised land again, when the new Jerusalem is brought down from heaven, and all things are put to rights?

O son of man, can these people whom we have lost live again? O son of man, can these loved ones live again? O son of man, when it is our time, can we live again? O son of Man, can these bones live again?

These bones will yet live again, just as Jesus gave us a foretaste of it in the resurrection of Lazarus, and more fully in his resurrection from the dead unto eternal life. And as Jesus is, we shall be in that respect. So prophesy to the dry bones, and tell them this good news: Be whole, receive the Spirit into you, and cry out with us and the Psalmist:

130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.

130:2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

130:3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

130:4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

130:6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

130:8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Maybe this day you are going through a dry spell. You’re having spiritual struggles and don’t know what to do. Maybe you are struggling with your own carnal nature, and seeking to love yourself through gluttony, through pride, through sloth, lust, wrathfulness over against another, greed, or you feel yourself languishing in despair. Please remember this: a dead man has no spiritual struggles. You’re still spiritually alive, but maybe you’re still feeling dried out, cut off, in danger of being laid waste. Call out to our Lord for his help and actively wait on him, reach out to your brothers and sisters, especially our intercessors in the back today, that we may pray for healing, and gather with the saints to read the promises of God together in his Holy Scriptures and be strengthened and encouraged in our faith as we continue to live this Christian life together. See one of your priests here for a time of confession, to pray together, to hear the words of forgiveness pronounced to you by your own name. Know that God is the one who has given you his spirit. So the answer to the question is yes: The bones shall indeed live again! There is a God, whom we know, and his name is Jesus, and he shows us what is coming. His death, his broken body and blood, his resurrection are our salvation. And we, too, will someday be called forth from our graves, our bones being made alive again by him to unto eternal life. Praise the Lord! Alleluia! Prophesy to the whole earth this great and glorious news that we shall live forever in Christ, united in his love by the Holy Spirit, worshipping the one who created us and gave to us his son as a sacrifice for our sins. We shall live.

To him be the glory throughout all ages, even to the ages of ages. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.