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 begins the refrain to an African-American spiritual, written in the 1920s by James Weldon Johnson. At least for those of us who are of a “more mature age,” let’s call it, it’s hard to listen to today’s first reading without hearing also that tune. The song has often been sung in an almost light-hearted manner, but the reading from Ezekiel on which it is based is anything but light-hearted.
The context is what seemed to be the utter destruction of Judah, Jerusalem and its people. The nation lay in ruins; and, from hundreds of miles away where the prophet and the leading people lived in exile, Ezekiel paints a picture of an old battleground, strewn with corpses. His description reminds me of some of the Civil War photos by Matthew Brady: a landscape covered by the bodies of the dead, utterly devoid of life.
But then, from the middle of this scene of total death and destruction, God asks the key question: “Mortal, can these bones live?” That question almost seems to be a rhetorical one; for there is absolutely no reason for hope – no reason, other than the transcendent, creative power of God.
The composer of the psalm that we prayed today (Ps. 104:25-35, 37) knew of the life-giving breath, spirit, wind of God (they’re all the same word in Hebrew): “You send forth your spirit, and they are created, and so you renew the face of the earth.” He or she knew of the mighty wind of God that swept over the waters at the beginning of the first story of creation. Then there was the mighty wind that gathered up into a towering mass the waters of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape certain death and to cross over into a new life, re-created by the one who had chosen and called them. And now God, the creator, was at work once again: gathering together the scattered, dry bones that had been Israel, reassembling them, covering them with sinews and flesh and skin, and breathing into them the divine breath, the divine spirit in a completely unexpected and completely awe-inspiring new work of creation. But then, that unexpectedness is completely in keeping with the very nature of hope. Reflecting St. Paul’s words, historian and theologian Gerald Sittser has observed, “Hope does not become truly hopeful until there is no reason for it.”
But God wasn’t finished yet. In fact, God was only beginning the work of re-creating all that is. In the story that we most closely associate with this feast of Pentecost, the story that we heard from the Acts of the Apostles, God’s life-giving breath, God’s spirit, is on the move once again. With the sound of a strong, driving wind – a sound that would have elicited in the first believers a sense that God’s great saving deeds of Creation, Exodus, and Return from Exile were happening again – with that powerful sound, the spirit of the living God was falling fresh on all that God had made. That life-giving spirit was once again gathering together the dry bones of God’s scattered people, raising them up and breathing new life into them.
William Willimon reflects on the scene this way (Acts, p. 30): “The new day dawns with the eruption of sounds from heaven and of a wind (2:2). Things are coming loose, breaking open. Can it be the same wind which on the very first morning of all mornings swept across the waters, the wind of creation (Gen. 1)? The wind is once again bringing something to life.”
Yet as marvelous and world-changing as that first Christian Pentecost was, it was only the beginning. For that same renewing breath of God, that life-giving spirit of God, that all-powerful wind of God, continues to blow through the world in all ages, raising up what seem to be the dry bones of every generation, transforming death and despair into new life and hope.
That Spirit of God, whose coming we celebrate today, is not just a presence that we feel inside ourselves, comforting and consoling us when necessary, strengthening us in our resolve when needed. That Spirit of God not only brings life. That Spirit of God is life: the life of all creation.
Hildegard of Bingen was a 12th century mystic, poet, dramatist, composer, doctor, and scientist – obviously a quite remarkable person! In writing about one of her mystical experiences, she speaks in the person of the Holy Spirit and offers this vision: “I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that flows in the beauty of the fields. I shine in the water; I burn in the sun and the moon and the stars. The mysterious force of the invisible world is mine. I sustain the breath of all living beings. I breathe in the grass and in the flowers; and when the waters flow like living things, it is I… I am the force that lies hidden in the winds; they take their source from me, as a man may move because he breathes; fire burns by my blast. All these live because I am in them and am their life. I am Wisdom. The blaring thunder of the Word by which all things were made is mine. I permeate all things that they may not die. I am life.”
It is that Spirit, who is life, whose coming and presence we celebrate today. And it is with confidence in that Spirit, working in the world at all times, that we have the assurance that, even in what seem to be the most hopeless situations, God can still bring new and unexpected and greater life. For that spirit of God, that wind of God, that breath of God that blew over the waters at the beginning of creation, that brought the Israelites out of Egypt, that breathed new life into the dry bones of Israel, and that brought forth the beginnings of God’s new creation on the first Christian Pentecost – that same Spirit/Wind/Breath continues to blow over all the world today, giving new and greater life to all that is
It is in that Spirit that, even in the most lifeless situations, we find life. It is in that Spirit that, even in the most hopeless situations, we find hope.