In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. We ourselves are cut off. And Thomas dares to voice our darkest rebellion and flexing of the will: “I will not believe.’ He does not say to Peter: “I do not believe you. I think you are lying or you are delusional or playing some cruel joke.’ He says: “I will not believe. I will not be vulnerable. I will not submit. I will not take the risk and be disappointed once again. I am done playing the fool for God.’ In his self-absorbed and self-serving pessimism he issues a dangerous ultimatum: “Unless I see; unless I put my finger and my hand; unless God jumps through my hoops and satisfies my doubts: I will not believe.’ And thus does Thomas, like us all, sets his face toward Hell.
But Ezekiel cries out after us. He says: “O dry bones! Hear the Word of the Lord: ‘Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.’’
That is what Ezekiel prophesied at the scene of an ancient battle, at a landmark for slaughter, to the harvest of violence: a valley of dry bones. The Word and Promise of God came to that awful place. He entered into our house of doom, breathed our poisoned air, suffered our betrayal and our lies, stretched out His arms and died. And then a noise, a sudden rattling, the graves in Jerusalem let out the dead.
And in that sad valley what Ezekiel spoke began. Bone came to bone, sinew and flesh came upon them, and skin covered them. But, despite what he had said, there was still no breath in them, dry bones no more, but still lifeless corpses lying in the valley without breath, waiting for Pentecost. So Ezekiel prophesied again: “Thus saith the Lord: ‘Come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’’ And the Breath came into them and they lived. Three days after the centurion plunged His spear into the side of God, God as Man lived again. He brought His peace to the upper room and life to a valley of dry bones.
The pride and doubt of Thomas is not so great as the love of Jesus Christ. He says to Thomas: “Peace to you. Reach your finger here. Look at My hands. See where they drove the nails that held Me to the cross. Reach your hand, your unblemished hand without scar, put it here into My side. Feel the place of the water and the blood. Eat and drink, Thomas, without price. Harvest where you did not plant. Enjoy the reward and benefits of righteousness you did not perform. Bear the name and the blessing from above that comes as purest gift. I was dead. But the sacrifice is done. The payment is complete. The atonement is full. I am alive and live. I bring you life and peace. I bring reconciliation at long last. I send the Spirit to make you free.’ And the Breath He breathed on them the week before came to Thomas and Thomas lived. Death died in him. Doubt was gone. He was reborn. His faith burned once again and he confessed: “My Lord and my God!’
The dry bones have flesh and breath. Thomas has faith and a confession. So Jesus turns His gaze to you and says: “Behold, O My people! I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it.’
That Holy Breath of Easter Eve, of Pentecost, of new birth from above; that Holy Breath that came from the four winds and breathed an army to life again; that Holy Breath that had hovered over the chaos of the deep and called Elijah from the cleft where he hid – that Holy Breath from the Father breathed out by Jesus Christ was breathed into you in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. He called you by name out of death. He made you His people and His priests, raised you as His Temple built without hands. He stopped your doubts and caused you to believe. He bestows His blessed peace on you. He will not give up on you. He loves you. That Holy Breath is breathed out again by His ministers to forgive your sins and join you forever to His death and resurrection.
Once you said: “Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. We ourselves are cut off.’ But now you see the crucified and risen Lord of Life in His Word, in the Body and the Blood, in His Ministers, and you say: “My Lord and my God.’
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana