An Impossible Question
Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday
Year B, RCL
Ezekiel 37:1-14, Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
An impossible question is asked of Ezekiel; can these bones live? Ezekiel knows that only God could possibly know the answer. God’s response to Ezekiel is that all things are possible through God. In Ezekiel’s vision, God does not speak to these bones to come together, to reanimate, and become alive. God works through Ezekiel in which Ezekiel has to take the initiative and act on what he hears God say. God says to Ezekiel “prophecy to these bones . . . and I will cause breath, or the spirit, to enter [them].” It is only when Ezekiel speaks God’s word that these bones come together. The passage says that these inanimate “dry bones” are asked to “hear the word of the Lord.” And to our amazement, the bones do hear God’s word spoken by Ezekiel.
These dry bones are a resurrection story. Through God, these old dry bones are given the spirit in which they are given new life. But this life is not for an individual. This new life is “the whole house of Israel,” the body of God’s people; what we might call the Church. It is the church that is being filled with the spirit and resurrected. According to God, this church is “Dried up, and their hope is lost.” God says, “I will bring you back . . . And you shall know that I am the Lord . . . I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” This story is a rebirth of the Israelite people; moving from bondage to freedom in their own land. Through this marvelous act of resurrection, they have a renewed faith and renewed trust in God. God sends the spirit and puts it within the people as proof that God speaks and acts on their behalf. This spirit of the Old Testament is what we call the Holy Spirit. And the coming of the Spirit is what Christ was explaining to his disciples.
Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending the Spirit; also known as the Paraclete or the Advocate. Jesus says that the Advocate has been with him since the beginning of time. The Spirit was with Christ in creation and we see the Spirit in Ezekiel’s vision and again today, Pentecost. The Gospel says the Advocate comes to testify on Christ’s behalf. The Advocate comes and indwells us. This knowledge of the Advocate’s coming should bring us great hope. Just as Ezekiel’s vision brought the Hebrew people hope of their nation’s restoration. The coming of the Advocate, after Christ’s death, should bring us the hope of God’s restored Kingdom.
According to Jesus, the coming Advocate is better than having Christ physically present with us. In this section of the Gospel, the Advocate, or Spirit of truth, will lead us in all truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment. If we take the Gospel as a whole, we will find “that through the work of the [Advocate] in the church, it is possible to know Christ far more fully . . . than he could be known by those who only saw him in the days of his earthly life.”[i] By the Advocate dwelling within us, we know Christ more deeply and fully than the disciples did in their time together with Christ. This is the relationship we are offered in our Christian faith. And there is a parallel between Ezekiel’s vision showing us the indwelling of the Spirit in God’s people and our story in Acts shows us the indwelling of the Spirit in us the Church.
The story in Acts, with sounds resembling rushing wind and fire coming down upon us, must have been scary and awe-inspiring to witness. It reminds me of Hawaii right now, with loud sounds that are similar to rushing violent wind. Divided tongues, resembling fire, appeared among the disciples and rested upon them. Because of this incredible imagery going on,
think we often get distracted in this story. We want explanations as to what is really happening and what it all means. We hear of unexplainable phenomena. Of exuberance in which some think that the Disciples are drunk. And we hear of people speaking one language while others hear another. The disciples, as well as others, received the revelation of Christ through a terrific experience. An experience in which I think, at that moment, I would be rather confused, and excited; not knowing what was really taking place.
This strange day is the day that Christ said was coming. This is a day when God’s people were brought together in which through this marvelous act, the people have a renewed faith and renewed trust in God. God sends the spirit and puts it within the people as proof that God speaks and acts on their behalf. It is this Spirit that we receive in Baptism and that we ask to be renewed in Confirmation. It is this spirit that we sometimes feel when worshiping the lord or singing music or at other special moments in our lives.
This Spirit is a gift of grace, that is available to all who seek it. And when we have it we somehow know that Christ is within our very being, even if we cannot explain it. It is also a gift that allows us to know that all things are possible through the Word of God. It is also the gift of discernment, that through Christ we can understand what sin, justices, and righteousness are in God’s kingdom. Because of our faith in Christ and through our baptisms we have received this gift; a gift that renews our spirit and restores our faith in God. It is up to us, much like Ezekiel, whether we are willing to speak Gods word in the world. Whether we are willing to trust that all things are truly possible with God. And whether we will speak and listen to the word of God and restore the dry bones of the Church.
[i] The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: Paraclete. Abingdon Press 1962