A Season to Call Upon that Holy “Breath from the Four Winds” by Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace
“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry…
Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”
(Ezekiel 37;1-2; 9-10)
As I prepare to step away on my sabbatical, I am struck by the seasons of life – for us as individuals and for us as “the church.” I am aware that the seasons of life mirror the seasons of God’s creation in this precious planet we know as earth. As our terrestrial home makes its annual pilgrimage around the sun, every 525,600 minutes we find ourselves back to where we began. Our 365-day journey brings us back to this very place – to this season when the days begin to get shorter and the air begins to feel cooler. It is also the season when we as “the church” gather to launch a new season of worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, and mission. The energy and spirit of our churches and ministries are hope-filled as we celebrate the possibilities of a new program year; as we recommit to being a people of resurrection hope in a broken world; in a world – near and far – that seems to find itself in a valley of sorts – where the challenges seem to be insurmountable and hope seems to live upon some distant mountain.
Perhaps this is why I was led to this Ezekiel text. There is something profound about understanding it was God who took Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones. It was God who challenged the prophet to consider whether or not there was life in that valley of dry bones, “Mortal, can these bones live?” This is a real and relevant question for us today, especially as we consider the year before us. The dry valleys before us are just as real today as they were thousands of years ago. The dry valleys can be found in the senseless violence of this summer in our city and nation, in the opioid and addiction challenges impacting our communities, in the images of hunger and homelessness on our streets, in an immigration system that is broken, and in the images of poverty and economic injustice that compel us to live into our identity as a Matthew 25 people and presbytery. The presence of these dry valleys can threaten to cheat us from the very hope we claim. They appear to be so insurmountable that they threaten to cause us to turn away; they tempt us to be a church that provides a shelter for a few instead of a church that extends shelter to the world. The question from God to Ezekiel echoes loudly across centuries to us today, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
And as we know, the bones do come together and are able to stand. At first however, they are inanimate creatures – structures with no life in them. Life is only birthed when Ezekiel calls upon God’s “breath of heaven” to “breathe on these slain.” It is this moment of proclamation and obedient prophesy that unleashes God’s powerful Holy Spirit, “Come from the four winds, O breath.” It is this holy breath that causes what was once dead and lifeless to find new life. I must confess – I love this moment when heaven and earth meet to bring forth new life and possibilities. It is a moment that gives me great hope for our call as a people of faith. Now I am aware this text is often used to describe the state of the church – we are often viewed as the valley of dry bones. And there is truth to that, as the church has often been guilty of focusing our attention to structures and not spirit; to regulations and not relationships. But for me, on this day, as we begin another 525,600 minutes rotation around the sun, I believe God has taken us – all of us – by the hand together – to look upon the state of the world. We are the “Ezekiels” being presented with the reality of our world and the valleys of despair around us. I believe we are being asked “Mortals – can these bones live?” We are being invited to proclaim “Thus says the Lord. Come from the four winds of breath and breathe upon these slain so they may live.”
So as we begin this new season of possibilities, may we boldly be like the one we follow and claim as Lord. May we like Jesus depend on God’s spirit to equip the saints of our communities – growing all ages in the loving ways of Christ. May we like Jesus inspire the spirits of those who already know the power of our faith – so they might be agents of transformation in the world. May we like Jesus, invite the stranger and “unknown other” into our midst – those for whom the church has been a foreign or unwelcoming place. May we like Jesus stand with those who cannot stand on their own and may we be a voice for those whose voices are unheard or ignored. And may we always remember that it is not our power that will bring life and hope – it is the power of the one whose breath of heaven continues to defy death with resurrection hope. It is in this truth that I am encouraged for the ministry before us. Come, breath of heaven!
May the blessings of Lord Jesus Christ be with you all – I carry you with me in my heart and ask your prayers for me during this sabbatical season of reflection and renewal. See you in November.