(due to a technical error, audio is not available for this week’s sermon…)
Ezekiel 37:1-14 | Acts 2:1-21
Ever felt like a dry bone?
In Ezekiel’s day, the people of Israel certainly did. Not long before they had been part of something exciting, something vital; they had been part of the people called to be the people of God, and it had really meant something. They’d been a nation of that worshipped God, a nation that identified with God, a nation in which each generation taught the things of God to the next generation, in which children grew up practicing the faith of their parents, and grandchildren the faith of their grandparents. They’d been called by God to show the love of God to the whole world, to be a light to all the nations, a wellspring of hope and faith and all that is good and true and godly.
But within the span of a generation – less than a generation – it had all vanished. Suddenly they were a minority, surrounded by people who did not know their God, did not value their faith, did not care about their understanding of good and evil, right and wrong.
The community had been broken, families separated. The people were scattered like the bones of Ezekiel’s vision. Worship, instead of being the vibrant heart of the community, had become a thing mocked by outsiders.
Any of this sounding familiar?
Have you ever felt as if the Church has lost something? As if not so long ago, or not so far away, we were vibrant, full and active, as if the Church was at the heart of society, as if people looked to the Church for guidance about right and wrong, looked to the Church to pass on the faith from one generation to the next?
Ever felt like a dry bone? Then Ezekiel’s vision is for you.
In his vision, the prophet looked out over a valley full of bones, dry and scattered. The people of God, with life and breath and hope sucked out of them. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost.”
And perhaps God might have said “I will start again. I will find a new people. I will create a new nation. There is no life here.”
But instead, God said “I will bring you back, and you will live”. And, commanded by God, the prophet spoke to the bones, repeated God’s promise to them.
And there was a rattling noise, and the bones came together, bone joined to bone, there were sinews and flesh, and skin covered them.
Where before the people had been scattered, now they had come together. They had looked like a random, broken, meaningless mixture of bones, now they looked like an army.
But still there was no life in them. Still they lacked the spark of life, that indefinable something that separates the living from the dead, the makes a body into a person, a group of people into a community. They lacked something, something for which there is no good word.
And God spoke again. “Speak to the wind, speak to the breath, speak to the spirit, and command it; it is time – come, blow, breathe, be in these bodies and make them live”. There is something here that is impossible to capture in our English words; breath, wind, spirit, the same idea, the same word – ruach – in Hebrew. The wind blows, God breathes, the Spirit comes.
And the breath – the wind – the spirit of God came into them, and they lived, and they stood on their feet – a vast multitude.
Seven weeks ago we gathered here on Easter Sunday to celebrate the great day – and the great mystery – of our faith.
Today we gather to celebrate Pentecost; the day of the sending of the spirit, the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s vision.
But before Pentecost was a date in the Christian calendar, it had long existed a Jewish festival; perhaps less well known than Passover, but a significant day in the religious life of Judaism. At Pentecost, fifty days after the celebration of Passover, the people of Israel would gather to remember another crucial event in their story; the giving of law to Moses on Mount Sinai.
And I don’t think that it is coincidence that it is at the festival of Pentecost that the Spirit came.
Because the giving of the law was one of the central facets of the Jewish faith. In fact, it’s probably not a stretch to say that the Law was the one thing above everything else that defined the relationship between God and the people – the promised land would be given, but lost; the Temple would be built, but thrown down; the Law was the constant. There was even a sense in which the Law was the presence of God with the people of Israel – as the story is told, the stone tablets upon which the ten commandments were written were placed into the ark of the covenant and kept in the holy of holies, the place of God, almost as if the Law, the Torah, represented God’s presence amongst the people.
But for the people of Jesus Christ, God’s new law comes at this Pentecost; the law that is the Spirit of God; the law that is God’s presence with each and every one of the people.
Ezekiel’s prophecy and the story of Acts chapter 2 are paired together in the lectionary because they both ultimately speak the same word to us.
They both speak of the possibility of new life.
The possibility of change.
The reality that the past does not need to define the future.
For the disciples on that Pentecost day, everything changed.
Their fear was replaced with boldness.
Peter denial of Jesus replaced with his very public witness.
A time of waiting and wondering replaced with a time of action.
The letter of the Law replaced with the presence of the Spirit.
A group of individuals turned into a people.
And this is the way that God has worked ever since; taking unlikely people – dry bones – drawing them together by their shared love of Jesus into a body, and then breathing the Spirit of God into them so that they might live.
We are the bones that God has drawn together in this place. We are the bones that have come together to form the body of Christ, the body which, with the breath of the Spirit of God in it, lives, to the glory of our God.
That is Ezekiel’s vision. That is the story of Pentecost. That is the faith of the Church. Where we gather, God is with us. And where God is, there is life and hope and purpose.