The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
Acts 2: 1-4
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Spirit which enlivens us and supports us. With their gift it was possible for the 120 members of the Church to quickly expand the Church to include hundreds and hundreds of believers. Each one in turn would receive the Spirit, each one going out into the world to spread the Good News of Christ’s resurrection. Death had been conquered and nothing could be done to restore it to its former reign over human life. We who once were freed, could only return to captivity by choice.
The Spirit is a member of the Trinity that is seldom offered their due regard. Though we praise all members of the Trinity through praise of one, we often call on the Father or the Son and only on occasion invoke the Spirit. Yet, the Spirit is someone we cannot live without. It is the Spirit that lifts the mere matter we are made of and gives it life. It is the Spirit that marks our true baptism into God’s Kingdom. The Spirit sustains us, provides for us, connects and unites us. The Trinity is a unity of three persons and without any part of it creation would not exist.
The Spirit takes the spotlight at least once a year on the Pentecost. Here their contribution to God’s economy of grace cannot be denied. The Church grows because the Spirit gives us words to speak, power to do, directions to go in. It teaches us all the ways of Christ and discloses the nature of our Father in Heaven. They are the presence of God in all the earth, without which we would be left adrift in the void of a lifelessness, and existence devoid of substance. They are the blessing which we simply cannot persist without.
The question can still sit with us. If the Spirit is truly within us, if we have become a Temple to the risen Christ, then why do we lack the signs of the Church we see in Acts? Glossolalia has not opened up our mouths and made any of us bilingual. The Church is not, as we have discussed before, growing at any discernable rate.
It seems we have fallen away from a fully enlivened existence. If the Spirit is within us, then they seem to have met a substantial obstacle. God cannot be bested, that is true, but neither does God coerce us into action. The Spirit is only as capable at acting upon us as the flesh is willing to give up control. For though the Spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.
The state that we often find ourselves in is not the overwhelming glory of the Pentecost, but the tired and scattered existence testified to in Ezekiel 37. The impossible height of mountainous fear locks us into a valley of Death. The horizons close in around us, we begin to lack dreams of anything but what already is. At best we hope to be sustained, at worst we long for our end to come quickly and as painlessly as possible.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote to a people in exile. At that time, there was a division among the people over what their expulsion from Judah meant. Some believed that God had justly punished them, others that God had grown tired of them and abandoned them, still others feared that God had been destroyed alongside the Temple. Ezekiel answers many of these concerns throughout his oracles. Most striking, however, is Ezekiel’s commitment to making clear that God is alive and active, willing to include the people in the renewal of creation. There was a promise of a new Temple, a new city, even – provocative beyond all else – of a new life.
In our scripture, God gives Ezekiel a vision. A valley filled with bones. This reflected very real scenes in the years after the Babylonian conquest of Judah. In the carrion field, Ezekiel is commanded to call the bones to take form. The Spirit is promised to them and the mere words of the prophets is enough to inspire the bones to find their peers. Bodies reformed as flesh and blood returned to them. The resulting forms are mere homunculi, images of humanity that lack any life-force of their own. They are the mere matter of creation that awaits the divine spark of life.
God calls upon Ezekiel to do what may seem impossible to us. God asks Ezekiel to prophesy to the Spirit itself. The breath of God, the wind that births all other winds, hears the words of the prophet and is moved to act. The command of God – enacted through the prophet – is manifested in a movement of the Spirit. A mystery is made plain to us, how prayer can bring about results, and we see life enter into the vacant bodies of the valley. Life has returned where once there was no life, a new start for all people.
This is revealed to be an image of God’s people. In the way that these bodies were reconstituted, so too would the scattered people of God be gathered and set right once again. Where stagnation had reigned, there would now be growth and the growth would shape all things into the blessed vision which God has given us from long ago. When we see this vision of a Valley of Dry Bones, we should see in it our present state. We are people in need of redemption, of rebirth, of a renewed infusion of God’s Spirit that will establish our ministry in all the world.
If we wish to see ourselves live into the legacy of Acts, we must know the revivification of Ezekiel. Our lifeless matter, drained of vitality by normalcy and doubts, is renewed by the intervention of God within our life. The key to achieving this is found in believing God is capable of it. This belief is accomplished by the testimony of prophets. A prophet is not someone who tells the future, but who casts an alternate vision of the world. Prophetic speech, to borrow a phrase from a popular musical, “make[s] you see how the world could be in spite of the way it is.” The vision of the prophets is of a world where God is given proper placement within the throne room of our hearts.
To begin to grow the Church, we must first decide what it wants to be. Is it a place of learning? Of fellowship? Does it fulfill God’s command to feed the hungry and care for those in need? Without a vision there is only flailing, a floundering attempt to find land with no concept of what land even looks like. The Vision has its origin in God, and we can only find it by listening closely to God’s words towards us. Until the Spirit is given our ear, they will not give us the words we must speak, if we do not hear their words then we cannot breathe that same Spirit into the world.
Today we celebrate the birth of the Church. We also look forward to the day that God will re-invigorate our modern Church. This will not be like any rebirth before it. Revivals in tents and old-time expressions have had their time. God is doing something new in the world, if only we would be willing to hear the proclamation of its coming. Let us seek God’s vision for our life and for this church. Let us together join and seek the re-invigoration of God’s breath in our life. – Amen.
 Anaïs Mitchell, “Road to Hell (Reprise),” Track 39 on Hadestown (OBCR,) Sing it Again, 2019, Digital.