Prophesy to the Breath
In 587 BCE, the military forces of King Nebuchadnezzer decimated Jerusalem and its temple, and forcibly deported its leading inhabitants to Babylon. For those in captivity, it seemed as if all had been lost. In lament they cried out, “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, we are completely cut off.”
Sequestered as they were from the life they knew- they began to think about what they’d done and left undone to cause such a calamity to happen. At this time many prophets arose, messengers of God, who sought to answer those questions. Their reactions and responses varied greatly. Often their proclamations were of judgement – a critique of how God’s people had behaved and a call to live differently.
Some blamed the apostate kings and leaders for their failure to govern with wisdom and justice. Others blamed the people for slipping into idolatry, for worshipping false gods and putting their faith in that which ultimately could not save them. Still others proclaimed that it was because the whole society had failed to care for the least among them – the widow, the orphan, the poor – contrary to God’s commands.
As good and as reasonable as those explanations were, none of them fully satisfied the question. Prophecies of judgement would not be enough. Thinking about what they’d done and left undone would not be enough. Placing blame would not be enough, if in the end they were not restored to the family of God.
They needed to remember who they were and whose they were.
Who God was and who God was calling them to be.
But in the midst of these dark times, the Spirit of the Lord gives the prophet Ezekiel a vision. A prophetic message, not of judgement, but of divine grace and deliverance.
The Lord sets him down in a valley of dry bones, a sea of devastation and death, as far as the eye can see. God asks him: “Can these bones live?” Can life, holy life, come out of all this ruin and loss? Ezekiel doesn’t know.
Then God says, “Prophesy to the bones, Ezekiel, and say to them: ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’” And so Ezekiel does as he is told, and the bones begin to rattle and come together – and muscle and joints and flesh come upon them. And skin covers them, but there is no true life – only resuscitated corpses.
And then God says: “Prophesy to the breath, mortal, and say to the breath ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.’” Speak to the Spirit Ezekiel! Speak to the Spirit and let it fill them with life!”
Ezekiel does as God commands him, and the Spirit of God enters them, and they live, really live. A vast multitude, restored at last, to the family of God. Through this vision Ezekiel discovers a divine grace beyond his wildest imaginings.
The Breath of God that initiated the whole human enterprise by making humans from dust and filling them with life. The Spirit that hovered over the whole creation, the Spirit that led the slaves out of Egypt and delivered them home... That very same Spirit, that very same breath, now brings them out of death into life.
As we emerge from our quarantine exile, prophecies of judgement won’t be enough, if what we long for is to rejoin the family of God. As important as an honest reckoning is to our common life, we will not make proper meaning of this moment without divine grace, which God pours upon us even now. We will not learn the needed lessons without hope and faith and forgiveness.
We must remember who we are, and whose we are.
Who God is and who God is calling us to be.
I do not doubt our ability to reassemble the bones of our economy and wear again the skin of life we knew before. But will those bones live? Will that body have true life? Will we merely resuscitate the dead? Or be resurrected to new life in Jesus? If this is what you seek, for yourself and for the world God loves, dare to dream the vision of Ezekiel.
Prophesy to the breath! Prophesy to the life that is in you, and to the love of God for all people. Speak to the Spirit! Call it forth and receive it – in yourself, in your neighbor – and in every corner of creation!
Speak to the Spirit! And bear witness to all that is good: to kindness and humor, to collaboration and compromise, to self-giving and generosity. Sing out your joy wherever you may find it!
We are the family of God. A family governed by wisdom and truth, justice and mercy; a family governed by love. May we rejoin it with gladness and in hope.
The Reverend Canon Kathy Rock Pfister, Vicar