Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 23, 2021
Day of Pentecost
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21
Oh, how I love the wonderful stories of the Bible—like the accounts of David, Esther, the Prophet Deborah, Jeremiah, Hannah, Isaiah. And what about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Wouldn’t you like to sit with her for a while and hear her story? Then there’s Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Paul. What tales they could tell. Scripture is filled with so many people who have incredible lives. It kind of makes me wish I were that proverbial fly on the wall. And never more so than on this day—the day of Pentecost when the wind, the spirit, hope on fire, sweeps in, and alters our faith story forever. Pondering our lectionary readings made me wonder what it might have been like for someone who happened to be present. How did they experience knowing Jesus, loving Jesus, witnessing his ministry to the world, and then after his death, resurrection, and ascension, waiting with the others for the promised power from on high?
One person who comes to mind is Joanna. She is named in the Gospel of Luke as one of the women who comes to the tomb on Easter morning to find that it is empty for Christ has risen, just as he said. Although we know nothing more about her, with the help of the Holy Spirit, she still may have something to teach us. So, imagine with me a little Jewish girl, Joanna, sitting at the feet of her father whom she adores. He has a love for Hebrew Scripture, and he is gifted with a dramatic flair that makes the old stories come to life. Although Joanna loves every story, nothing holds her attention like her father’s rendering of Ezekiel prophesying to the dry bones.
The days of Ezekiel are dark days when disaster has fallen on Israel. Because of the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people, the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem. The traumatized survivors, who witness the massacre of loved ones, are taken into captivity. Ezekiel is among them. In Babylon, Ezekiel the priest becomes Ezekiel the prophet to the exiles. The people are dejected. They have lost hope. The Temple, the home of the Presence of God has been destroyed. What of the spiritual life now? It is into this dark, hopeless place that God sends Ezekiel, setting him down into a valley of dry bones. Joanna’s father tells this story with great enthusiasm!
Our people had given up saying, “All is lost. We are dead.” But Yahweh was not finished with Israel. God said, “No! There is still hope.” Then Yahweh provided a demonstration. He put Ezekiel down in the valley of dry bones and God said to Ezekiel, “Prophecy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God…I will cause flesh to come upon you…cover you with skin…put breath in you and you shall live.” Ezekiel prophesied and suddenly the bones began to rattle and the bones began to shake—as if finding a long, lost friend, they came together, bone to bone. Then tendons appeared, and muscle and then skin that wrapped it all up, just so. Again God spoke, telling Ezekiel to prophecy to the breath and say, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these…that they might live.” Ezekiel did as he was told to do and the breath, the wind, the spirit, the ruah came upon them and they lived and they stood at attention.
What an incredible scene—a prophecy and a promise of things to come for the people of Israel—for the people of God. To be sure, all hope is not lost. Joanna’ father reminds her that in another place in Scripture, Ezekiel speaks these prophetic words of God, “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you…and you shall be my people and I shall be your God.”[i]
Joanna grows up hearing these stories of wonder and promise and hope, and then she meets Jesus. From the moment she lays eye on him, hope begins to stir in her heart. She watches Jesus change lives, heal the sick, feed the hungry, love the unlovable. He walks the streets of Galilee and Nazareth and Jerusalem. Everywhere he goes people flock to him. Some begin to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the dry bones of God’s people might rise again. They come and they see. However, there are others who cannot accept this humble king. They want a ruler to reign with a shield and a sword. But Jesus has other plans—plans for the salvation of the world. In the end, it comes as no surprise that Jesus, the humble Son of God, is silenced because the rulers of the world are not ready for his message. It is doubtful they will ever be!
Joanna is there when her precious Savior hangs on a cross and, like everyone around her, she thinks it is the end. But God has other plans. God breathes life into his Son once more. A new day dawns on Easter morning when Joanna, along with Mary Magdalene and other women arrive at the tomb only to find that it is empty. Empty! And then Jesus, alive and oh so well, appears. He walks among his followers, spends time with them. But soon, he tells them he must return to his Abba Father’s side. Beforehand, he provides instructions. “Wait to be clothed with power from on high.” Even though they don’t really know what he means, they wait. Once Jesus ascends into heaven, there is some business to take care of. Matthias is chosen to replace Judas, and the disciples, representing the tribes of Israel, are once more numbered 12.
In a few short days, the Jewish festival of Pentecost arrives—a festival that honors Yahweh’s giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. Understandably, people from every land wander the city. But the followers of Jesus are together in one place. About 120 people are present, including the disciples, and Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. Suddenly from heaven there comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind and the wind, the spirit, the ruah rips through the house. Divided tongues like flames of fire rest upon Joanna and all those gathered there. Everyone is glowing with the Spirit of God, and they begin to speak in languages they don’t even know! It’s like a roll call of nations and languages symbolizing how God’s Spirit will be for the whole world.[ii] Devout Jews hear the ruckus and come to investigate. In their own language, they hear the gospel message of God’s wonder-working power. They are stunned. They are perplexed. Some even claim: “They’re drunk, that’s what this is!” But if they are intoxicated, it isn’t from wine. It is from the heavenly wind that sweeps through them, giving life to dry, dry, bones.
Peter jumps up, raises his voice, and proclaims this is nothing less than the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken long ago from the lips of the prophet Joel, that in the last days, God’s Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh, that sons and daughters will prophesy, that young men shall see visions and old men shall dream dreams. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
In a flash, the Holy Spirit rushes in and the church is born. The Temple of the Lord comes to dwell in the heart of every believer with no more class, race, age, or gender distinctions. What a glorious day! I imagine Joanna dancing and singing as she remembers the stories of her childhood—stories her father told about those dry bones coming to life. How he would have loved to see God’s story unfold in such a way.
God’s story is still unfolding. Here we are, equipped by the Spirit to step out of our fears and away from our doubts to notice new life swirling all around us—to think wondrous thoughts and dream marvelous dreams on behalf of God’s beloved community. Here we are, after a year of a global pandemic that has nudged us to explore new ways of being the church. Here we are, gathered onsite and online to celebrate the Spirit among us and within us. Here we are, amazed at God’s grace that has proven to us that the church is not a building. The church is God’s people doing God’s work of love in the world. The Spirit continues to be a moving, nudging, creating Spirit. To what new creative work might the Spirit be calling our church? To what new creative work might the Spirit be calling you and me? Let us watch for it. Let us wait for it. And when we feel the Spirit move, with all the courage we can muster, let us ride the wind wherever it takes us. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] Ezekiel 36:26, 28, NRSV.
[ii] Feasting on the Word, 4.
*Cover Art “Pentecost” by Ira Thomas @ Catholic World Art, used by permission