Text: John 20:19-31
Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are clean cut off – so say the dead, dry, bones of Israel in Ezekiel's valley: and surely St. Thomas' soul was just as dry and hard. Thomas had seen Jesus die. He knew that was real. And with Jesus had died all of Thomas' hope and strength which had been once so vigorous. It was Thomas who boldly said to the disciples that they should go with Jesus down to Lazarus' house and die with him there if need be. It was Thomas who boldly questioned the Lord about the way to eternal life. Bright-eyed, eager, brave, intelligent: this is the picture of Thomas that we see in John's Gospel.
But then Jesus is betrayed, and Thomas flees. Then Jesus is beaten and crucified, and Thomas loses hope. Then Jesus is buried, and Thomas' faith goes six feet under.
Thomas is living in a valley of death and decay: a waterless place where all is dry and lifeless. And beloved, have you not walked in Thomas shoes? For faith, trust in God, is a difficult road. To look at a loved one taken by vicious disease and then stand by a hole in the ground and say, “O grave where is thy victory?” - that is faith. To encounter every kind of hardship, betrayal, sadness, and cruelty in this world and then believe that God is your loving Father and not an almighty sadist – that is faith. Faith is trusting that what the Lord says to be true is true even though your eyes tell you differently. Faith is seeing with your ears and shutting your eyes to the lies of the devil. And have you never wavered, beloved? Have you never doubted? Have you never accused God of evil? Have you never given up hope and doubted that there was even a god at all? Peter denied his Lord, Thomas disbelieved, the women at the tomb despaired: and you know that their story is yours.
So repent. Dry bones tell no tales – but the Lord calls them to life. Thomas could not pick himself up by his bootstraps and just will that faith well up in his heart. You cannot just decide one day to rise from the death of unbelief and make a decision that from now on your will never again doubt. It doesn't work that way. Bones don't get up and dance. Dry souls can't water themselves.
And so the Word of the Lord comes to a valley of dry bones. The Lord enlivens them with his Spirit: and behold, first the rattle of bone on bone, then sinews and flesh, then the Breath and there is life again and an exceeding great army for the Lord. The Word and the Spirit of God are sent by the Father to bring life to a valley of dry bones.
And then the miracle is repeated – or rather, the prophecy is fulfilled. For behold Thomas and the disciples: dry, dead souls without an ounce of faith. But the Word of God, that is the Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, stands before them, and breathes on them the Breath of Life, the Holy Spirit of God. And behold, a rattling sound as their dry souls are revived, and they breathe again, and there is an exceedingly small army for the Lord, only 11 to start with.
But clothed with power from on high, they will go forth, these apostles, these sent ones, and they will again and again repeat the ministry of the Holy Trinity. For it was not enough that the Father sent the Son to be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit so that he might suffer an die for the world; it was not enough that the Father raised the Son by the power of the Spirit; it was not enough that at the Father's behest, the Word made flesh breathes his Spirit into his 11 apostles. More must be done: the miracle must be replicated: the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve must be raised from the valley of dry bones: the breath of life must spread until there is an exceeding great army of every tribe and nation and people.
And so Jesus breathes the breath of life into these weak vessels, these doubting disciples, these dry bones. He breathes his own Holy Spirit into them and says, “As the Father has sent me so I am sending you” - and out the apostles go with the authority to preach, to baptize, to forgive and retain sin, to give out the true body and blood of Jesus. For there are three that testify, beloved: the water, and the blood, and the Spirit. And these three agree: you are forgiven and lifted up to life. For the Lord will not allow your soul to be a valley of dry bones. The Lord wills that you be filled with life for ever.
So he has washed you clean in the heavenly bath of water and Spirit, the washing of rebirth and renewal. He has moistened your dry bones with Holy Baptism and made them live. To clothe these bones in flesh he has given his own Flesh and Blood: for your are meant to live forever, so you must be outfitted with glorified and risen flesh as you come to the Lord's Table. And he has breathed into you the Breath of Life as his apostled ministers have breathed over you the Word of Absolution, the Word of Forgiveness, the Breath of God.
This is your life. So live, you dry bones and doubting Thomas'. Be forgiven you denying Peters and despairing women. Do not disbelieve but believe: for the Lord is good. The Lord does want life and salvation for you. The Lord is risen from the dead: and he is risen to life that he might give you life.
And especially you; this life is for you. You have been baptized. Your dry bones too have been given life. You have had the Spirit of God's forgiveness breathed into you in Holy Absolution: it is time and past time that you get some flesh on your bones. Your Lord bids you to come therefore to his Table and receive his flesh for yours. For in Christ, your flesh and its desires have been killed on the cross. You need new flesh and blood: and the Lord will supply it. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are risen to new life in the Spirit. Come now and receive the same Body Thomas touched. Come now and receive the very Blood of the covenant. See with your ears and trust the Word of the Lord: “This is by body; This is my blood: given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
For the promises of God have no expiration date. Be renewed. Be young in the Faith again. Be raised from the dead. O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. For thus says the Lord GOD to you: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 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. Amen.