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“I Will Open Your Graves”
Ezekiel 37:1-14


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fifth Sunday in Lent—April 10, 2011

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What has been the saddest moment in your life?  For me it was my father’s funeral.  There is nothing more painful than standing before an open coffin, looking upon the lifeless body of a loved one; the coffin closed; the body lowered into the grave.

Our text is today’s Old Testament Reading from the 37th chapter of Ezekiel.  The Lord promises, “I will open your graves and bring you up from them.”

Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones is one of the most unusual pictures in the Bible.  In the ancient world when a major military battle was fought in a valley or a plain, the victors sometimes left the bodies of the defeated there in the open, unburied, as a horrible memorial to the battle, and a lasting warning to other enemies.  Ezekiel’s vision is of a desert valley like that: eerie, desolate, scattered with the dry bones of decayed bodies.  “Son of man,” the Lord asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?”

For the people in Ezekiel’s time the dry bones in the vision were a symbol, representing their destroyed and defeated nation.  Ezekiel wrote his book in Babylon after ancient Israel was conquered by the Babylonians and he was taken captive to Babylon with many of his fellow conquered countrymen. The vision of dry bones coming back to life was a comforting promise from the Lord to those captives in exile that he would resurrect and restore their dead and destroyed nation.

“Son of man, can these bones live?”  Ezekiel’s vision is also meant as a comforting promise from the Lord for us, the promise of resurrection and eternal life for our dead and destroyed bodies.  Like the ancient nation of Israel, defeated in battle, the Lord promises us, “I will open your graves and bring you up from them.”

When we lower a loved one into the grave, when we face death ourselves, we feel as though we are suffering the ultimate defeat.  That’s how the disciples felt as they saw the body of their beloved Jesus placed in the tomb and the stone rolled into place.

“I will open your graves and bring you up from them.”  St. Paul writes in 1st Thessalonians, “We would not have you be ignorant, brothers, about those who fall asleep, or to grieve in the same manner as the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will raise with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

Although on Good Friday Christ’s death looked like a horrible defeat, the victory came on Easter morn.  In the same way, your death and the death of your loved ones asleep in Jesus is not a defeat; the victory will come at the Last Day.  As St. Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “But Christ has been raised from the dead, the first to rise of those who have fallen asleep. . .  Thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When you fall asleep in Jesus, your spirit leaves your body and goes immediately to be with Jesus in the bliss of heaven.  As Jesus said to the thief who came to faith while hanging on a cross beside him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Here on earth, your lifeless body will decay.  Perhaps it will be cremated.  Perhaps like so many in the earthquake and tsunami in Japan it will be destroyed and never recovered.  Perhaps parts of your body will be donated to help others.  No matter how it happens, like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision, your body in its present form will pass away.  “Son of man, can these bones live?” 

The great Easter hymn “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” is based on a verse from the book of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.”

“Son of man, can these bones live?”  “This is what the Lord God says to these bones: ‘I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life!’”

At the Last Day your body, even though it is decayed and destroyed, even though it may be scattered, will be raised, restored, revived, reassembled, resurrected.  “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”  The same body you have now will be restored to you: “I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.”

But your resurrected body will be changed, transformed, into a perfect, glorious, heavenly body.  As St. Paul says in Philippians, “The Lord Jesus Christ . . . will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”  That means no longer will your body bear any sign of the struggles and sorrows of this world.  No more weakness, no more sickness, no more infirmity, no more deformity, no more injury, no more defects, no more frailties of any kind.

St. Paul puts it this way in 1st Corinthians: “We will all be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised never to die again, and we will be changed.  For that which dies must clothe itself with that which cannot die, and the mortal with immortality. . . Then the saying that is written will come true, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”

“We believe that God will raise with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”  Just as Christ rose from his tomb on the third day, on the Last Day your body will rise from its grave.  As Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned. . .  a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. . .  all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out.”

“Son of man, can these bones live?”  A time is coming when like Lazarus in today’s Gospel Reading you will hear his voice and come out of your grave.  For, the grave is only a temporary home for your body.  As St. Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.”  Just as the body of our Lord Jesus himself only rested in the tomb for three days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, “a time is coming . . . when . . .  all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out.”

At the resurrection on the Last Day, in that country cemetery in Kansas where my father is buried and all around the globe the vision that Ezekiel saw will come true: “There was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.  I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them.”

Your body, raised, restored, revived, reassembled, resurrected, will be reunited with your soul for all eternity, as Ezekiel also saw in his vision: “But there was no breath in them. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Lord God says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’  So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them, and they came to life.”

“Son of man, can these bones live?”  “This is what the Lord God says, ‘O my people, I will open your graves and bring you up from them.”  “And so,” St. Paul says in 1st Thessalonians, “we shall be forever with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Jesus promises, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live. . . For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the Last Day.”  He lives, and you shall conquer death.

“O my people, I will open your graves and bring you up from them.”

Amen.

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