1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley;1 it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath1 to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD."
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling,1 and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And 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. 9 Then 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." 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
11 Then 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.' 12 Therefore 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. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And 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."
In the name of + Jesus.
In days gone by, churches were often built with their own cemeteries. And if there was sufficient land, the church’s cemetery would be placed right behind the sanctuary, or in some other nearby spot. Now, keep in mind, that this occurred in a time when the bodies of the deceased would often be brought into a home’s “parlor” for visitation. Which is to say, churches which were built with their own nearby cemeteries where built during a time when people saw death, and what it did to the body. Maybe you've seen these sorts of churches while on vacation, or have lived in another part of the country and have worshiped in such a church.
Admittedly, if a congregation—even our Congregation—was thinking about building a new building, a cemetery would not be at the top of the list of “must haves.” There may be other reasons for this, but most of us have grown up in a culture separated from having to see the effects of death. Sure, the news places images of violence before us, and movies are filled with the dead. But apart from a “made up” body at a visitation or funeral, where every effort has been made to make the deceased look…well…”not dead,” I can’t count on one hand the number of times I have seen death come—and I’m a pastor!
Today’s passage from Ezekiel may give us a bit of insight into the mind of those church architects who decided that the church cemetery should be built right along with the sanctuary. In this valley of dry bones, the Spirit of God, by the spoken Word of God, goes out over death and brings life. With the command of God, unnumbered bones, with no sign of life in them at all, would begin to come together, bone to bone. Sinews and flesh would be put upon them, and flesh would cover them. Finally, bodies needed to be made alive with the bread of life—Kind of like Adam!—and so the breath (of life) came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
You see, in passages like Ezekiel 37, and 1 Corinthians 15 (and more!!), the Scriptures teach us to live in hope for the resurrection. Our culture tries to distance itself from the painful realities of death—and to be sure, none of us desire it—but Scripture has a different answer. Rather than putting it off, and pretending it isn't all around us, Scripture would have us look forward to its end. Rather than locking ourselves away from death because of fear, Scripture would have us live with Easter expectation, and in anticipation that Jesus’ resurrection is coming for all who have died in the faith. Why were those cemeteries built along with the sanctuaries? Because the Christians who built those churches couldn't wait to see their brothers and sisters in Christ again. And even more than that, they couldn't wait to stand with them, and look at Jesus face to face!
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Almighty God, You alone speak the words of eternal life. Save us, Lord, for we cannot save ourselves. Amen (TLSB, p. 1371).