27 March 2008

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter (2008)

Ezekiel 37:1-14 / 1 John 5:4-10 / John 20:19-31

“Can these bones live?” That’s the big question. Ezekiel surveys the valley, and they are bleached white, scattered here and there, a veritable valley of the shadow of death. It looks like that’s the end - and not just for them, but for us all. But God asks: “Can these bones live?”

Ezekiel takes the safe route: “O Lord God, you know.” Don’t ask me about these big issues of life and death! It’s beyond my brain what can happen. I don’t know if these bones can live, but you do.

Comes the answer: Prophesy! And speak the Word over them he does. The bones comes together with a great rattling. But they lay on the ground now, dead bodies. More gruesome maybe than just bare bones. And then comes the answer again: Prophesy to the breath, the Spirit, and breath on them that they may live.

And as prophesies to the Breath, the Breath of God comes and enters them and suddenly they are standing on their feet - a great army. “Can these bones live?” Yes, for the Word can reconstitute their nature and the Spirit can give them life. Word and Spirit sent from the living Father.

But what about when the One who is dead is the Word Himself that called to life? Is there hope then? Thomas was doubtful. “Can these bones live?” The bones of Him who raised the dead, but when He is killed, can He live again?

The others told him: Yes! These bones CAN and DO live again. But Thomas had trouble taking their words to heart. He wanted to see, to touch, to handle.

How great is the kindness of the Lord! He not only appeared to the others, but He came again for Thomas. Appeared before him, bringing peace, and inviting: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Believe what? “These bones live!”

Did he? Did he touch? Did he handle? Some think no, others think yes. I think yes - because Jesus told him to, and I don’t think Thomas was about to disobey his Lord’s words anymore. He had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears that these bones live.

Jesus had breathed into the disciples and told them to receive the Spirit. The resurrected life that shone in His body He wanted to plant inside of them. And to them all He gave a commission of forgiveness. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

Life risen from the dead sends out His own with an embassy of forgiveness, an embassy sealed with the good news that “these bones live” and because HIS bones live again and forever, ours shall too.

Let us crumble to the dust. Let us become a bleached field of bare bones, whitened in the sun. Nevertheless, nevertheless these bones shall live again.

Such was the joyful message that the Church carried out into all the world. With Christ our Lord there is forgiveness for all sin - as sure on earth as it is certain in heaven - spoken by the men He sends in His stead to speak it. With Christ our Lord there is a life that reaches beyond the grave, and so we go toward the grave not as those who are agnostic about whether God can make these bones live again, but as people who are certain that our bones will live again when Christ stands once more upon this earth and calls us forth by His Spirit.

This is the victory that has overcome the world - this is our faith. The Spirit, the water, the blood - they all testify to its truth. God has given us His testimony about His Son, that in Him we have forgiveness and in Him we life, and in Him is resurrection from the dead. This is the truth that sets hearts free and fills them with joy: “These bones, MY bones, shall live!”

Already the inside fellow, the new man, lives from this life and in this certainty. And we carry it around inside of our bodies that are our outer self, wasting away. We live inside from the Age of the Resurrection.

Christ in our Baptism breathed into us His Spirit and gave us a share in that life which never ends. There He wrapped us up in His holiness, covering our sin, freeing us from the old way of living with its dead end of doubt and despair and He planted in us hope of a life that never ends.

And whenever the absolution is spoken at His command by His sent servants, the Spirit of life is blowing again and the dead are called to life. We only have it inside ourselves now, but we know it will be in our bodies also on the last day. He doesn’t forgive a piece of us; He forgives the lot, the whole man, the whole self, and so what rises in victory over corruption is not some disembodied soul, but the whole person, made like Him.

And here at the Eucharist, we’re there with the disciples. And Jesus, the living one, is among us. He shows us the wounds so that we can see that it was indeed the body that went into death which is now standing before us, forever beyond the grip of the grave. He feeds to us His body and His blood, forgiveness and life. And our hearts rejoice that we have seen and known the Lord, and we cry out to all the world our conviction that these bones shall live again, and we join Thomas in falling before our Lord and confessing: my Lord and my God! Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed that these bones shall live! Amen.

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