Tomorrow is the Feast of Pentecost, and I had a choice to make when planning our Eucharist this year: I had to choose between the classic Pentecost reading from Acts where the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples in the sound of a rushing wind and tongues of fire, or Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the valley of dry bones restored to life again by the breath of God.
You will have to tune in tomorrow to learn which story I chose for Sunday; but today, I want to reflect on something common to both stories that speaks to me as we stand on the threshold of “re-opening” after a year of pandemic lockdown.
No matter how well I know these stories, I still get swept up in the drama. In both stories, everything changes in an instant: One moment, the disciples are all together in one place wondering what to do next when suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind (Acts); one moment, Ezekiel is simply following the divine command to speak God’s Word when suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone (Ezekiel).
In March 2020, everything changed in an instant when suddenly we had to be so, so careful not to spread a deadly, invisible virus. Then a week ago, the CDC suddenly announced that our Covid vaccines are so effective that if you are vaccinated, it is safe to go without a mask in most instances.
When the earth suddenly shifts beneath our feet like this, it puts us in a state of high alert: What’s happening? What does this mean? What’s going to happen next?!
In Acts, what happened next is that these first disciples were inspired, energized, and equipped with all they needed (the gifts of the Holy Spirit) to steer their choices of where to go and what to do, to persevere through challenges of every kind, to live and serve as Jesus did, and to help others know Jesus as they had known Him. They discovered that these gifts were not theirs to control or to misuse, but that they were ever-present and dependable when they were genuinely engaged in the work of God.
What happened after Ezekiel prophesied the Word of God to the dry bones? The bones of the dead were knit back together again. God then told Ezekiel to “prophesy to the breath” (using the same word for breath that we’d later associate with the Holy Spirit), and a valley of dry bones was restored to life again. Ezekiel’s vision gave the people of Israel hope that sustained them through the long exile in Babylon, when it seemed their existence as a people might be stamped out forever.
As we are thrust into this “now and not yet” post-pandemic moment, it seems we are all in a heightened state of alert. What happens next? Can we trust that we’re really safe if vaccinated? What about all the kids who can’t be vaccinated yet? How is our collective health impacted by those who choose not to be vaccinated? What do I want to “return” to when I’m able; and what do I want to let go of? From my place as your Rector, I’m wondering, what will church look like in the post-pandemic era? How will we be changed? What kind of people are best equipped to lead and serve us as we find our way into these new realities?
Thankfully, these Pentecost stories remind me that what comes next may yet to be revealed in all its details, but there is no need to be anxious and afraid. God does not abandon God’s people, even when things look bleak to the untrained eye. Jesus has sent us an Advocate — yet another name for that life-giving, energizing, equipping, hope-restoring Spirit that is God’s gift to us at Pentecost. When we genuinely give ourselves to God, we are given all we need in return to steer us in the choices we must make, to help us persevere through challenges of every kind, to help us keep on living and doing as Jesus did, and to invite others to walk alongside Him in the Way of Love.
Blessings of Pentecost to you, St. John’s. See you at church!
This comes with Love,