Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
The Feast of Pentecost, Year B
May 23, 2021
As we have seen in so many other biblical accounts over the last several weeks, the Holy Spirit is in charge here. The Holy Spirit directs movement, is in charge of speech, commands all knowledge and brings to life. The prophet Ezekiel is moved by the Spirit and set down in the middle of a valley full of desiccated bones. The scene is described in such a way that there is no question as to the utter lack of the presence of any life whatsoever in these bone. They have been dead a long time. The spirit commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. He is to speak a word of life to all that is dead. Ezekiel is to prophesy that life will return. Notice that life will return incrementally. First, the spirit will lay sinews on the dry bones. Next the spirit will cause flesh to cover the sinews. These sinews will then be covered with skin. And finally, breath will enter these newly formed bodies. Nothing happens without breath. The spirit is breath. The ruach of God – His Holy Spirit. God is the one who revivifies. God is the one from whom the breath comes. Once this image has been established in the mindset of Ezekiel and the exiled Israel, some beautiful promises emerge: God will bring them up from their graves. God will bring them back to their land. God will put His spirit in them. God will place them on their own soil. They will live. And they will know that it is God who has spoken.
The pandemic has certainly been a long walk through a wilderness, has it not? In many respects it has felt as if it has always been Lent and Holy Week but never Easter. These words from the prophet Ezekiel are often read at the Easter Vigil, and they remind us that Resurrection is just around the corner. We worship a God that brings dead things to life. Is there within you a valley of dry bones? Do you need to hear a prophetic word of revivification? Do you need to speak a word of hope a spirit breath to someone else? What part of your soul needs to be brought out of the grave and placed on your own soil?
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
This is a song of praise to the Wisdom of God and the way in which His Creation emerged from this wisdom. It speaks of the creation of all things and of our relationship with that creation. We are totally dependent on God. All we have to do is open our hands, and God is ready to supply us with all that we need. The Holy Spirit is present here too. It is the source of creation and renewal. Because God and His Wisdom is the source of all of these things, He is worthy of our highest praise.
God is prepared to give us all things. Very often, however, when we raise our hands to him, we raise clenched, closed, frustrated fists. God cannot fill our hands unless we open them to receive. In what ways are you ready to receive, and in what ways do you close your hands to God’s abundance? What psalm of praise can you sing to thank Him for His wisdom?
If you’ve ever been in the midst of a tornado or a hurricane, you understand that the sound of a “violent wind” is not pleasant. In fact, it’s terrifying. And the flames of fire being added to the image does little to bring any comfort. These images as described here in the Acts of the Apostles, suggest that the presence of the Holy Spirit brings change abruptly and drastically. And perhaps not comfortably. Fire and wind can be destructive; but they can also be enlivening. In this account from Acts, the Spirit enables the proclamation of God’s “deeds of power” in languages that the proclaimers previously did not have the ability to speak. Any division brought about from differences in language is erased here. What is the reaction of those who witness this multi-lingual proclamation? Some are filled with awe and wonder. Others sneer and are critical. In response to the public’s reaction, Peter preaches a sermon. In the sermon he explains that what folks are witnessing was prophesied by Joel when he said that all would receive the spirit, that sons and daughters would prophesy, that young men will see visions and that old men will dream dreams. God will reveal Himself through portents and signs. God’s day will come and God’s salvation will be revealed.
We often get complacent in our comfortable Christianity and forget the power of the spirit that is God’s gift to us. We forget that a violent, life-changing wind blows through our church, or that an enlivening, destructive fire is at our disposal. We have the ability to proclaim God’s deeds in the languages that the people around us understand. The Spirit empowers our language even in a post-pandemic church. The Spirit is poured out and God is revealed through prophecy, visions and dreams. We are called to change – through burning and blowing away of the old and through vision, imagination and breathing out of the new. Hear what the spirit is saying to God’s church!
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
The promise of the Advocate (as the Holy Spirit is called here) is the promise of a spirit that brings truth. Because of the polarization that exists in our culture today, it is often difficult to discern truth. The Holy Spirit, however, grounds us in Truth and enables us to testify authentically to that truth. Jesus promises Truth to those who have been with Him from the beginning. Jesus also instructs us here that in order to receive this Spirit, the disciples must let go. They must let go of their physical hold on Jesus. To have Jesus with them physically is good, but Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit is even better. Sometimes to obtain the best, you must let go of the good.
Have you been with Christ from the beginning? What does that even mean? What good, comfortable thing must you release in order to receive something better, maybe even in order to receive the best thing? Maybe if you let go of some of that to which you cling, you will experience a new beginning in Christ. Maybe then, the Spirit will rush into you and enable you to speak the Truth from that point of being truly grounded in the best part of Jesus.
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.