These are unprecedented weeks for the peoples of the world. Those people most vulnerable in ordinary times now find themselves even more at risk of severe hunger, homelessness and death from COVID-19. In this Thursday prayershot, Jennifer Cuthbertson, Coordinator for Facilitator Development, offers us this reflection on Ezekiel 37:1-14.
Twice over the years I’ve kept vigil at my husband’s bedside as he struggled to breathe and finally lost his breath. A ventilator provided his oxygen-starved body with air but could not recreate the ability to breathe. Would he ever breathe on his own again? Only God knew.
One of the deadliest effects of COVID-19 is the inability to breathe. Ventilators push air into lungs in an attempt to keep people alive — a very painful procedure when lungs are compromised by disease. Ventilators, however, reside almost entirely in the world of the privileged. How many people around the world will die because they can’t breathe before this current pandemic comes to an end? Only God knows.
In our US context and many other places around the world, untold numbers of protest signs bear the last words of George Floyd: ‘I can’t breathe.’ These three words encapsulate far more significance than simply the body’s autonomic breathing function. Will the oppressed, disenfranchised, discriminated against and invisible poor of this world ever possess the liberty and security to breathe unencumbered in their own land? Will modern-day slaves ever again breathe emancipation instead of exploitation? Will the estimated 27 million refugees of our world ever breathe acceptance rather than ostracism? Only God knows.
In Ezekiel 37:1-3, the hand of God steered Ezekiel around a valley filled with bones compelling him to look at and see how very many, very dry bones were there and how broadly they had been distributed. Then God asked, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ (Will they breathe again?) Ezekiel answered, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’ (You know what I’m thinking. Is this a trick question? These are just disconnected bones — not even bodies! Are you serious, Lord?)
The dry bones represented God’s people — a desperate people whose hope was gone — a people cut off (v11). God had a word for this hopeless, cut off people who lived in the graves of exile: breathe. Ezekiel was to deliver that word from the Sovereign Lord: I will be your ventilator and ‘make breath enter you’ (v5). ‘I will put breath in you, and you will come to life’ (v6).
Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army (vv9-10).
Life! Life is God’s business therefore it is our business. We too are commanded to speak breath to those who cannot breathe. How then will we speak? How will we breathe for them? How will we ventilate them until they can breathe on their own?