"The Spirit of God moved upon the waters" (Gen 1:2) - at the very outset of creation the waters were stirred by the Spirit of God. More literally in the Hebrew, the "breath of God," moved over the water just as the morning breeze gives the first stirrings on the surface of water. In the Hebrew language and culture, breath was metaphor for life and spirit. Even the Hebrew word for "living being" or "soul" is linked to this notion of a breathing being. So the creative power of God is the power of life itself, stirring the waters, breathing life into human being and all living creatures. From the Biblical perspective, this life giving aspect of God is not limited to creation. God is creator, sustainer, and restorer of all life. And as Genesis also makes clear, God creates for life, not death. Death, a later phenomenon, comes about by human rebellion and not as part of God's gift of life. This aspect of Genesis, familiar and expected for us, represented a radical revelation to the ancient world. Ancient peoples observed the frightening power and universal reality of death. Many concluded that death itself was a god - and perhaps one that was most powerful of all. Israel's scriptures teach otherwise. Even the seemingly powerful death is nothing before the power of the Living God.
Elijah comes to know God's life giving power as he faithfully serves the Lord. In contests with the servants of the bloody thirsty Baal, Elijah demonstrates the sovereignty of the God of life. This is most obviously true in the episodes that take place in Zeraphath. There a vulnerable widow finds herself and her son and household at the precipice of death by starvation. They are not worshippers of the Lord, but of Baal, for they are Phoenicians who live beyond the bounds of Israel.
When Elijah visits her household, those who already consider themselves lost are saves by God’s miraculous provision of food through the agency of Elijah. When after being saved from starvation the widow’s son dies of disease, the woman fears that her sins have brought punishment and death. Elijah then demonstrates the power of the only true and living God, the Lord, Who restores her son’s “life breath” and inspires her to express faith. It is remarkable that this scene occurs outside of Israel, for it demonstrates that the Lord is not limited by human boundaries. It also reveals God’s care for, and interest in, all of the nations. Above all, it reveals the God Whose love and power are greater even than death.
The passage from Luke recalls the events in Zarephath. Once again, a widow is bereaved and God’s power intervenes to restore life and heal a terrible sorrow. Only this time, it will not be a man who intercedes, but the Son of God Who acts to restore life. The passage testifies to the compassion of this Messiah and His exalted identity as one Who does the work of God – the “breath” of God is again stirring in the realm of creation and the result is the abundance of life.
Galatians touches on a similar truth. Here again we see testimony to the life giving power of the Son of God. While Saul was not physically dead before his conversion, he had become a servant of death. He used violence against those he considered unclean by the standards of the law. But the Lord Jesus raised him from this way of death and gave him a new life as an Apostle of God’s life-giving, transformative power.
In the celebration of the Eucharist, as the priest pronounces the words of consecration, he breathes upon the elements. This symbolic action recalls the creative act of God’s spirit and invokes that same spirit in the transformation of the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ. As we partake of that miracle, the life breath of God stirs our hearts and brings us to new life and the promise of eternal life.