The Living Dead
5 Lent, A
7So 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. 8And 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. It sounds almost like something from a horror movie, doesn't it? Zombies have never been more popular. From Zombie walks to big budget movies like World War Z, and the hit TV show the Walking Dead, the living dead are to die for. Ever since 1968's Night of the Living Dead, zombies have been a favourite metaphor of storytellers for the pitfalls of our particular day and age. But that is nothing new, and it was no different, in the time of Ezekiel either.
You see, as this vision unfolds, the armies of Nebuchadnezzer had utterly destroyed Jerusalem and with it all the hopes of Judah. God's people were defeated, powerless and captive to a world power that had no concern for them or the promises of God's Word. They were a people without hope. A nation without a homeland. They were the living dead.
11Then 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 clean cut off.’ The people of Israel were at their wits end. Suffering in their captivity from arrogance, pride, self-conceit, and their refusal to believe in the goodness of God, they were reluctant to hear the words of the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel. Even words that would bring them back from their death of despair and hopelessness to something better. And why should they?
Those very same ones who had laughed at God's promised judgment on their apostasy were laughing no longer. Their strength was dried up, their pride crushed, their hopes trampled under heavy armoured feet. All they can do is wonder if their rebellion had forfeited all God's promises. Had He rightfully cast them off forever? Had their sin nullified God's age-long promises? Had their rebellion finally disqualified them from being His people any longer? It was the living dead who shambled doleful and despairing into exile by the rivers of Babylon.
But these abject people were not the first, nor the last to act like the living dead. You know them too … maybe you have been one yourself. Active and alive on the outside, going about their daily work, putting up good appearances for the neighbours, but all the while full of sullen doubts, bleak hopelessness, and soul crushing defeat. For hopelessness abounds in this sin-smirched world. There are so very many for whom all seems to be lost. Despair, desolation, and depression can assail anyone. Broken hearts, broken homes, and broken dreams, can deaden the inside of even for those who seem to be doing financially well, making ends meet.
Yes, we know the living dead well, because we have all been people dead in sin. We all know hopelessness and despair ... the feeling of being cut off from Jesus because of our sinful lives. The nation of Israel was only getting what they rightly deserved. What God had warned them away from for so long. And we feel that way sometimes too. Life goes where it will and we are left staggering through like the living dead, wondering if we haven't finally got what we deserve. If God hasn't simply wised up and left us to rot.
Yet still, in His love for these terrible people God holds out promise and hope. Yet, still He loves His church on earth. A welcome promise of new life for sinners who deserve only death. As the people of Israel were dead in their trespasses and sins; so we, too, just as dead, are brought back from death to life in Christ Jesus.
And the Means that God uses to bring life to the dead is the same today, as it was back then in Ezekiel's Valley of dry bones … The life-giving breath of God's Holy Spirit, found in God's Word! Baptism! Lord's Supper! 9Then 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.” 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Where God speaks His Holy Words of Law and Gospel, there the Spirit blows, and breath quickens. There the crisp, fresh air of His love and forgiveness fills our once dead lungs with new life. Where the Lord and Giver of Life is at work, creation is being remade, and the rightfully dead are made wonderfully alive. 1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death ... 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Israel in their captivity, you and I in this our mortal flesh … we are the impossibly living dead. But this metaphor is not just one for the history books. Nor is it simply a matter of spiritual truths and awakened consciences. For this picture of the living dead is one that each of us will see alongside old Job – with our own two eyes. In the company of all the long dead. Adam and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah and Ezekiel. Peter, James, John, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And all your dear ones now waiting for that final day of Christ's return. That day when the Dead will rise from their graves once and forever!
11If 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. Or as Jesus Himself said to Mary in the Gospel.25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
When God gives life, it is not just in a vision. It is not merely an inner spark. It is the real and lasting kind. The kind of life that undoes death once and for all. You have His Word on it. 12Therefore 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. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14And 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.”
Make no bones about it, God has the power to give life to the dead! Spiritually dead people … physically dead people … it makes no difference. Christ is the resurrection and the life for all the dead. His grace gives us new life and new hope in Christ whose dead bones and body were resurrected to life so that we have the sure and certain hope of eternal life with him in the new heaven and the new earth. Our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ brings us from death to life. But to do it He must first die himself and be raised on the third day! The firstfruits of the truly living dead.