About a month ago, I was writing the litany for Ecumenical Women’s opening worship for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). In the first draft of the refrain, I wrote, “Shower the earth with your justice, O God, and invest life into the bodies of your people.” Bringing it to Kathleen Stone, the chaplain at the Church Center for the United Nations, I, a white, privileged, upper-middle class (by American standards), North American woman, expressed my timidity about using the word “justice” so liberally in the refrain. “What is justice, anyway?” I thought to myself, “and how do I feel about a God who openly distributes justice upon God’s enemies? What does it mean for God to have enemies?”
As I expressed these perusings to Kath, she paused before commenting. When she spoke, it was reminiscent of what my Exegesis professor at Union Theological Seminary would later say about Ezekiel 37:1-14. For those people who have witnessed the ravaging of their homes, who have experienced the debilitating scourge of poverty upon their bodies and communities, and whose flesh has been torn and wounded—indeed, for those who have seen the “dry bones” of Ezekiel—the word “justice” is never too strong a word to use. In these situations, when humanity is hampered by our inability to distribute justice, it is God who must distribute justice. The women who would be reciting my litany have seen these dry bones, and they have come to the CSW to right the injustices of this valley. With these women in mind, Kath and I changed the refrain to “Thunder the earth with your justice, O God, and invest life into the bodies of your people.”
According to the Anchor Bible Dictionary, the book of Ezekiel was greatly influenced by the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and subsequent exile of the Israelites, beginning in 598 B.C.E. The text makes the claim that Ezekiel himself was among the first wave to be deported to Babylon under the siege of Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel is dramatically preoccupied with explaining and making sense of the exile, its ramifications both political and theological, to the people of Israel (Vol. 2, page 714). It is within this context of hope, exile, faithfulness, and the renewed covenant between God and God’s people that we find our passage, Ezekiel 37:1-14.
While writing the refrain, I wasn’t explicitly attempting to infuse in it the themes of Ezekiel 37:1-14, but they must have been on my mind. The phrase “thunder the earth with your justice” evokes the “rattling”; the tremendous earthquake that joins together bone with bone, applying sinews and flesh to hold them together. “Invest life into the bodies of your people,” suggests the breath of God, entering into and reviving the entire nation of Israel, arming them with a collective identity, passion, and hope for the future.
The theme for the CSW this year is “Financing for Gender Equality,” a rather dry subject, but with complete relevance and importance in the lives of women around the world: financing means resources, and resources means the improvement of lives. So as Ecumenical Women prayed the litany together on Saturday, we asked that justice might rumble through the conference rooms of the United Nations as it ultimately did in the great banquet halls of Babylon; that it might reconstruct key paragraphs of documents in the same way the temple of Jerusalem was rebuilt. We called out together that rather than investing money in portfolios or businesses, empires or grandeur, God will invest life—God’s breath and spirit—into the bodies of God’s people. Ezekiel’s message of sinewy, elastic, ecstatic bones rings true today in the prayers and the work of the Ecumenical Women coalition.Read the Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NRSV)