Ezekiel 37:1-14 / Revelation 21:1-7 / John 16:16-22
As far as the eye could see, all that Ezekiel could see was death. Ezekiel found himself in the middle of a cemetery. A very strange cemetery for sure. You might call it a burial ground, except for the fact that none of the bodies were buried. Death was right out in the open ? nothing to cover it up, nothing to hide it from view. Nothing to disguise it either. Nothing to pretty it up and make it look presentable. No embalming. None of the skillful treatment of the body to make suitable for a viewing. No caskets, cushions or flowers.
Just skeletons. And very dry ones at that.
The point is, there was absolutely no sign of life, either real or imagined. As far as the eye could see, all that Ezekiel could see was the absolute absence of life.
The question we are tempted to ask in the face of death is ?why?? ?Why did this happen?? ?Why did she die?? ?Why didn?t the treatment work the way we hoped it would?? ?Why didn?t we try different treatments than we did?? And then there?s the big question ? ?Why didn?t God make it turn out differently??
I?m not exactly sure why we want to know why, but I suspect it?s because we think that if we knew why, then we?d feel better about death. If we knew why, then, maybe somehow it?d be less painful.
The truth of the matter however is, whether you settle for the doctor?s answer, the lawyer?s answer, the philosopher?s answer or the pastor?s answer, it really doesn?t change a thing. And it really doesn?t make death any easier.
The truth of the matter is, we really should be asking an entirely different question than ?why.? We should be asking the question that is being asked of Ezekiel. The question that Ezekiel is given to wrestle with is, ?can these bones live?? It?s a very existential question that forces us to look at this from a completely different angle. Rather than looking backward in search of ?why?, here is a question that challenges us to look forward in search of ?hope.?
?Can these bones live?? Is death the end of life, or is there life after death? But, the question is actually a lot more specific than that. ?Can THESE bones live?? asks the Spirit of the Lord, pointing to the specific bones that fill Ezekiel?s eyes.
Well, if there is no such thing as life after death, then the answer to the question is an automatic ?no.? For if there is no life after death, then THESE bones cannot live. Death is final. In the end, that?s all there is, nothing more. There is no after-life. There is only this-life. After death comes nothing.
That was the common consensus of Ezekiel?s day. ?Behold, they say, ?our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.? That happens to be the common consensus of our day too. Even Ezekiel himself is not too sure. Rather than answer with a bold ?yes? or ?no,? he plays it safe. ?O Lord God, you know.? And so, I suppose it?s okay if you?re not too sure either. But if ever there was a time to clear things up, and remove all doubt, now would be that time.
?Thus says the Lord God to these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.?
Breath was Betty?s big problem over these last several years. Her lungs couldn?t supply enough breath to keep her body alive. Lung disease robbed her of her breath. Oxygen tanks and breathing machines helped her breathe for a while, but finally, she ran out of breath.
Betty has a lot in common with Jesus in this regard. Or, is it that Jesus has a lot in common with Betty in this regard? Breath was our Lord?s big problem in life too. St. Luke the physician provides the technical cause of Jesus? death saying, ?He breathed His last.? (Luke 24:46). Like Betty, Jesus? lungs finally quit and He ran out of breath and died.
Jesus truly died Betty?s death. And Betty truly died Jesus? death. Way back in February of 1927, in Detroit, Michigan, Betty died Jesus? death in the waters of holy baptism. ?Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?? (Rom.6:3).
So the question we really want to be sure we know the answer to is not ?why did Jesus die Betty?s death? or ?why does Betty?s baptism so intimately unite her to Jesus that through it, she has died His death.? We can let the theologians and philosophers get their kicks out of wrestling with that one. The question we really want to know the answer to is this one, ?what happened to Jesus after He died?? Did His bones live?
?For if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.? (1Cor.15:17-18).
?Thus says the Lord God to these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.? ?Behold, I will open your graves and raise you up from [them], O my people.?
?For in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.? (1 Cor. 15:19). Christ is risen! ?He is risen indeed!?
?O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord?? ?We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.? (Rom.6:4-5).
Not only is there life after death, but there is life after death for ?these? bones.
Already, the same breath that entered into Jesus? lifeless body on the 3rd day and raised Him from the dead, has breathed new life into Betty and she is not dead. She is risen. She is risen indeed. The promises of God are trustworthy and true. ?Behold, the dwelling place of God is with her. He will wipe away every tear from her eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.? Behold, God has made all things new for Betty.
No more shortness of breath ? only fullness of life. No more gasping for air ? only grasping her Lord. No more living to die ? only life without end. As far as the eye can see, all that Betty?s eyes see is life, for she lives in the land of the living.
And so we mourn the death of this faithful wife, this loving mother, this grandmother who adored her grandchildren, this good friend, this beloved sister in Christ. How can we not mourn since we have been separated from her. Tom, you?ve been united to Betty for 58 years of marriage. That?s a long time. But not nearly so long as an eternity. And a unity for eternity is what we are destined for through faith in Christ.
And so, we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Jesus said, ?You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy.? We do not believe that ?our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.? We believe that one day, we too will run out of breath and die. And just as He promises, Jesus will breathe His life giving breath into us and we too will rise from death to life, from separation to reunion, from this old world of dry bones to the new heaven and new earth. ?Behold, I will open your graves and raise you up from [them], O my people.?