A Reading from the Book of Ezekiel (37:1-14)
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. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he 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. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
25 O Lord, how manifold are your works! *
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
with its living things too many to number, *
creatures both small and great.
27 There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it.
28 All of them look to you *
to give them their food in due season.
29 You give it to them; they gather it; *
you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
30 You hide your face, and they are terrified; *
you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.
31 You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; *
and so you renew the face of the earth.
32 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; *
may the Lord rejoice in all his works.
33 He looks at the earth and it trembles; *
he touches the mountains and they smoke.
34 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; *
I will praise my God while I have my being.
35 May these words of mine please him; *
I will rejoice in the Lord.
37 Bless the Lord, O my soul. *
A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-21)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (15:26-27, 16:4b-15)
Jesus said to his disciples, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Now hear the word of the Lord.”
So goes the refrain to the old spiritual.
The image of the dry bones, found in today’s first reading, is one that is evocative of finality and hopelessness. Dry bones are all that remain when all life and all hope of life are gone.
The prophet Ezekiel uses this image to symbolize the state of “the whole house of Israel.” The northern kingdom had been destroyed and its people scattered 150 years earlier. And now the southern kingdom, Judah, likewise lay in ruins, with its leading citizens living in exile in Babylon, far from what had been their home. To any objective observer, the nation was dead, and Israel’s future had died along with it. All life was gone. There clearly was no hope.
There are times in life when we share in Israel’s experience of death and hopelessness. As individuals, we find ourselves crushed by a devastating loss. As a nation, we find ourselves caught up in a deep recession, along with one or even two distant wars, wars that destroy life and deplete our public and private resources. As a church, we find ourselves facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, searching in vain for a light, even a faint one, on the horizon.
It is at times like these that we share the sentiments of the remnant of Israel, ready to cry out from our own field of dry bones, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” We seem to have no future.
But then, neither did Israel. They, too, had no future — until the Spirit of God brought life to a place where there had been only death, hope where there had been only despair.
Today, we celebrate that Spirit and the ways that that Spirit has in the past, and continues in the present, to bring life out of death and hope out of despair.
In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New, the same word serves as “breath,” “wind” and “spirit.” The meanings overlap and complement one another.
At the beginning of the first of the two great stories of creation in Genesis, its unknown author describes a scene of primordial chaos and utter darkness. There is no reason why that should ever change, no way that that should ever give rise to life of any kind — no reason except the fact that a wind from God, the breath of God, the spirit of God was blowing over the face of the waters.
In our second reading today, when we join the company of Jesus’ disciples, about 120 of them according to the story in Acts, Jesus had ascended into heaven, and they had been left on their own. To all appearances, the work of Jesus had come to an end. It seemed to have no future. Other than the disciples’ loyalty to him, there seems to have been no coherence to the group. And their leader and spokesman, if they had a leader, had proven three times that he could not be trusted to stay at his post, even when questioned by a lowly servant girl in a garden in the middle of the night. To all appearances, this young Jesus movement had no future.
But then that same wind from God, that same breath of God, that same Spirit of God began once again to blow. Acts says that it came with the “sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” And suddenly, everything had changed. Abundant, vibrant life had emerged where there had been only death. Energizing, life-giving hope had emerged where there had been only despair.
That Spirit of God is not and never will be a mere relic of the past. That Spirit of God, who brought all things into being, who recreated Israel after its near total destruction, who raised Jesus from the dead after his crucifixion and burial, and who took that remnant of disorganized and timid disciples from the Upper Room and empowered them and impelled them out into the city and into the world – that same Spirit is alive and active in our lives and in the life of the world today.
That Spirit of God, that Breath of God whose life and power among us we celebrate today, still blows over the dry bones of our lives and our society and our church. And that same Spirit is still at work, bringing life out of death, and hope out of despair.
But that Spirit does not do its work alone. Just as it did the work of God through the prophets who called the Jewish people out of their exile mentality, focusing only on the past, and into a new life and a new relationship with God and with one another, just as it called forth Jesus from his tomb to become the firstborn of God’s new creation, and just as it sent those first disciples out of the closed room and into the world to proclaim the mighty works of God, so is that same Spirit at work in us today – trying to impel us to allow God to work through us in our time.
Like those early believers in Acts, we, too, tend to stay in our closed rooms: the closed rooms of our daily and weekly routines, the closed rooms of the activities with which we feel comfortable, the closed rooms of familiar relationships with people we have known for a long time.
While we insist on staying in those closed rooms, while we insist on keeping to ourselves and doing only what is easy and comfortable for us, we cannot do the work that God has given us to do in the world. As far as the church’s vital ministry is concerned, we are like dry bones, lying in a valley. And dry bones can never bring life and hope to a needing and waiting world.
But if we allow the Spirit of God to send us out of those virtual closed rooms where we tend to take refuge, then we can become part of that new creation that God has begun through the world-changing events of Easter and Pentecost. For God is calling upon us to be coworkers with God in that renewal, in that “making new” of all things, in the power of God’s life-giving and hope-giving Spirit.