The Biblical story of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14) may have a good word to reflect on for our times. In the story, God directs the prophet Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones in the valley so they can come alive and live. After he does, Ezekiel sees that the bones then have sinews, flesh, and skin covering them, “but there was no breath in them.” (Ezekiel 37:8)
God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, so it would come breathe upon the “slain,” that they might live.
Ezekiel prophesied again, and breath did come into the people, and “they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.” (Ezekiel 37: 10) This word not only brought hope to the people of Ezekiel’s day but can also remind us in our times of the need to, in the words of the well-known children’s song (Dem Bones), “Hear the word of the Lord.”
The words “I can’t breathe” are a cry for help heard far too often by BIPOC victims of police brutality and murder in the U.S. today. And for decades and decades these words have been ignored as BIPOC people have been brutally murdered by those entrusted with keeping the country safe. Now the same words have become a rallying cry by protesters in the streets, online, and around the world, challenging racism and injustice. Of course, hearing God’s word and hoping in God’s word as presented in the story doesn’t bring any easy answers or quick fixes.
The story doesn’t promise the many we have lost to police and other racist violence will miraculously be restored. What God says to the people is that “the bones are the whole house of Israel.” And the whole house of the U.S. We know, though, that because of systemic racism and white supremacy, some individuals in the “whole house” breathe easier than others; some (white people in particular) get to breathe unobstructed most of their lives.
Yet God says the bones of the nation and the world are crying out, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” (Ezekiel 37:11) And God gives Ezekiel this message to tell the people: “You shall know that I am the Lord … I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live … then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.” (Ezekiel 37:13-14)
I believe the story asks us to keep listening for and hear God’s promise of life for all and God’s call to justice. It asks us to trust God and become God’s love and God’s kingdom. Let’s resolve to keep in mind the refrain of the children’s song (and, most important, do what it says): “Oh, hear the word of the Lord!”