We are told that Ezekiel was a priest, brought up to honour and serve in the religious rituals of Israel. From verse 1 we reckon his age to be 30 - which was the typical age for a priest to commence their full duties. We also get from the book of Ezekiel clear markers in time and history: verse 2 sets a date which relates to 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles - the surrender of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 597BC. That led to royalty, officers, fighting men and skilled workers being led off to exile in Babylon.
Some though were left behind, including a man named Zedekiah installed by the Babylonians as a puppet king. For the next 10 years things were bad, but despite this there were some who thought they could carry on, that in time they would win over and get their city back. Ezekiel however spells out a different view. That gives parallels for us: since the start of lockdown we have had a hard time, but some thought it would be 'just a few weeks' and then things might snap back to normal.
This book spells a lot of doom for those who were hoping for a quick fix - in fact chapters and chapters of doom! In Jerusalem Zedekiah did rebel, but the Babylonians attacked in force, laid a heavy siege and trashed the city. It was ugly ... but all predicted by Ezekiel.
Yet amongst the doom let's start with verse 3, which says 'there in the land' he had his first vision. That was by the River Kebar, i.e. in the foreign place. Ezekiel was himself in exile, yet God spoke to him. It should remind us that God is still God - he is not limited to our physical situation, He is God everywhere!
In lockdown we have seen parallels with an exile situation. Even without the pandemic we are increasingly finding ourselves as exiles in the cultural climate of today. The digital revolution makes the world very different to just 15 years ago. Devices are not all bad of course (they enable our online expressions of church, and this blog!) - but we have to learn how to appropriately use them as tools in discipleship, rather than have tech unhealthily control our lives. We need to learn discipleship skills, picking up new tools in conjunction with refining our core spiritual practices so that we can be attentive to the Holy Spirit and develop resilient discipleship.
Ezekiel's visions are whacky - just read on from verse 4! Other encounters recorded in the Bible have their extraordinary episodes too - these tend to be rare (rather than occurring for many believers), but they do happen for some even today. His visions are graphic, and some involve a degree of theatre. Some are shocking images - like the baby lying in her own blood (chapter 16). Some are sexually explicit, more suited to Channel 4 than the BBC! Yet they convey important messages about intimacy and faithfulness with God.
For sure much is hard to understand. Some is big picture stuff, some relates clearly to the history of Ezekiel's time. There seems to be a lot of judgement type passages, but for sure there is also restoration. The book closes with a new city, square and ordered with the statement 'God is There', i.e. a rebuilding and reforming is possible, bringing Kingdom alignment, heaven and earth meeting.
Although there are parallels between exile and lockdown, our situation does not equal that of the Israelites, and any simplistic cause & effect leading to judgement does not translate across onto our situation. However we do live in a world of brokenness, and that leads to things going wrong that are exasperated by human decision and action. Through this series there will be a backdrop question of 'What does it mean to be faithful when the structures around you have crumbled?'.
For our introduction here though, we have this key question:
Key Qn: [UP] What does it mean for us to foster resilient discipleship?
Challenge: Review where you were at in your personal discipleship in January, the end of March … and compare it to now
One final thought on exile: living under our lockdown restrictions - not being able to gather as church etc - has put a burden on us. Yet it is no more than our brothers & sisters in persecuted church settings have been bearing for years. We typically assume we have a 'right' to meet and worship as we please - something we derive in the West from the 'Christendom' era of many centuries. Yet the reality is that this Christendom era is now over. Many struggle with that fact, but maybe we should embrace it. The restrictions distil out who is generally seeking the Lord in discipleship against those who were along for the ride. Jesus never promised his followers permanent land this side of eternity - so we are permanent sojourners, bringing Kingdom wherever we find ourselves. Lockdown has perhaps helped us see and understand this a little bit more. Let us understand it even more fully.