Sermon for Easter 2 – Quasimodo Geniti
Ezekiel 37:1-14 + 1 John 5:4-12 + John 20:19-31
It was from death to life last Sunday on Easter. It goes from death to life again today.
First it was the dead, dry bones that God showed to Ezekiel in that famous valley. Those bones didn’t just represent death. They represented fear, despair and hopelessness on the part of Israel. Israel was destroyed. Judah was in exile. And there was no possible way they could come out of it – no solution, no plan of action. And they despaired. And that was wrong. They had a faithful God who had never lied to them. But the devil got them to forget all about God’s faithfulness and kindness and turn inward on themselves, on how bad things looked for them. Humanly speaking, there was no hope for them. No human solution could save them. They were dead.
But where there’s death, that’s where the Spirit of God goes to work. See, the Spirit of God doesn’t like to help people along, to cooperate with them and work together with them. No, the Spirit of God likes to take dead things, hopeless things that can’t move a muscle to help themselves and do all the work himself. A valley full of dead, dried up bones? Perfect! Prophesy, son of man! Prophesy to the breath – to the spirit! And by the simple words spoken by God’s called spokesman and prophet, Ezekiel, the dead, dry bones – those hopeless, fearful Israelites came to life. There was death in that valley. But then, there was life.
There was death in the upper room on Easter Sunday evening. There was dead, dried up faith on the part of Jesus’ ten apostles who were there. There was fear and despair and unbelief – they go together. They despaired. And that was wrong. They had a faithful God who had never lied to them. But the devil got them to forget all about God’s faithfulness and kindness and turn inward on themselves, on how bad things looked for them – and for Jesus. As far as they were concerned, their God was dead.
But then he wasn’t. He wasn’t dead anymore, as of that Easter morning. The women had seen him. John saw the empty tomb and believed, but remained silent. Peter sometime that day saw Jesus. Other reports were coming in – two disciples from the road to Emmaus had returned to Jerusalem and reported the news to Jesus’ disciples. He isn’t dead anymore. He’s alive!
In that upper room of death, there was life breaking in by the word of Jesus’ resurrection. And then life stepped into the room. Right through the locked doors. Nothing can hinder this Person, this life-bringer. He spoke words of life, “Peace be with you.” The Son of Man was crucified but now is risen. Peace be with you. You all doubted me and replaced the faith I gave you with fear and despair. But now, peace be with you.
That’s a powerful word when it’s spoken by the very Son of God, the crucified and living one. Wouldn’t you like to hear it from his lips? But that’s just the thing. If you want to believe in Jesus at all, then you have to take him at his word. And what does his word say? As the Father sent me, so I am sending you. He breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgiven anyone his sins, they are forgiven him. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
How could Ezekiel bring dead bones to life? Because God commanded him to. Because God put his words into Ezekiel’s mouth, so that when Ezekiel spoke life into those bones, it was really God speaking.
In the same way, Jesus wants to come to you today, not with a personal, visible appearance, but in the words of those whom he has sent. It’s the same life, the same power, the same forgiveness. He gives authority on earth to declare peace to repentant sinners, to wipe away sins and to bring the dead to life with a word.
There is great peace and comfort here. There is literally death all around us, and fear and despair and hopelessness. But here is life stepping into the room – to be handed out in words. Jesus lives. Peace be with you.
And those who believe are comforted. And whoever does not believe will be condemned – unless the Lord of life brings life to the unbelieving before it’s too late, as he did with Thomas.
Stubborn Thomas. Whose fault was it that he didn’t believe all the eyewitness reports he heard? Whose fault was it that he didn’t believe Jesus’ own words promising his resurrection? None but Thomas was to blame. Stubborn and unbelieving. Stubborn and needing to be convinced by reason, by science. I won’t believe unless I see and touch and handle. That’s death. That’s hopelessness and despair. Because that is unbelief.
Now, maybe you’ve disbelieved and lashed out like Thomas, too. Even lifelong Christians can fall into the grievous sin of despair. But your despair or your disbelief doesn’t change the truth. Jesus was crucified, whether you believe it or not. He died and paid for all sins, including your sin of despair. He was buried. He rose from the dead, whether you believe it or not. He lives. He reigns. He keeps his promises. He loves his saints – and by saints, I mean, you sinners and sinful doubters who look up to him again for mercy.
So you might as well believe it.
Do you really want to experience the shame that Thomas must have felt when Jesus confronted him on the Sunday after Easter? I won’t believe unless I see for myself the nail prints in his hands and feet and put my hand in his side. And then life walks into the room again. Peace be with you. And then right to Thomas. OK, Thomas. Put your finger here and here and here and here. Put your hand here. Don’t be disbelieving, but believing. And the only thing that kept Thomas from running out of the room in shame over his shameful despair and unbelief was the word of Jesus, “Peace be with you. Believe.” And where there was unbelief, now there was faith. Where there was death, now there was life – they go together. And then Thomas did what faith does. It confesses, “My Lord and my God.”
And then, it’s almost as if Jesus looked up from Thomas, across time and space and right into this room, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Those words are spoken for you, you who have not seen and yet have believed. You are blessed.
And you need to hear those words over and over again, because you don’t get to see in this life. You don’t get to see the resurrected Jesus. You may see trouble and sickness and suffering. You will see temptation and your own sinful nature pulling you back into yourself, dragging your eyes away from Jesus, so that you forget about God and his faithfulness and despair of his help.
But God has left us a witness on earth that’s just as good as seeing Jesus. Really, honestly, just as good as seeing Jesus. Actually, it’s even better. How many people saw Jesus and still disbelieved? But the Spirit of God testifies, and we talked about it already on Good Friday: The Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. The Spirit of God always and only works through the Word of God, whether it was the word spoken by Ezekiel, or the word spoken by Jesus, or the word spoken by his apostles, which, today, means pastors. What is the Spirit’s testimony? And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Believe his testimony about the risen Lord Jesus and the life he gives and the forgiveness of sins he pronounces to you penitent sinners. Believe his testimony in the water, that you have been washed in the blood of Jesus and clothed with him. Believe his testimony in the blood of the Sacrament, that it was shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
If you won’t believe that, then you’re making God out to be a liar, and that would be foolish, so don’t do that.
There’s plenty of death all around us, and there is not a lot of life. Death is everywhere. It spreads like gangrene. But life – life is found, life exists, life is given only in a place. Life is in Jesus alone. And Jesus comes to you in his Word alone, and his Word is enough. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Amen.