Some 50 days ago, we gathered around our computer screens to celebrate the great festival of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The day of the impossible. How can it be that someone who had died could be alive again?
On that first Easter, all of Jesus’ friends were gathered in the Upper Room. That room where only a few days earlier they celebrated together with food and fellowship. They were behind locked doors, as Scripture tells us, and he came and stood before them offering his peace. How can this be? They saw him die. They witnessed him being placed in the tomb. They watched as the massive stone was rolled, closing off the entrance. But here he is.
And here we are, fifty days later, still wondering about what we witnessed.
It is traditional to refer to the Feast of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. I do not like to think of this feast in those terms because I feel it reduces this incredible outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit to a day; we wear pointy hats, sing songs, and eat cake. Not that there is anything wrong with cake, but this day, this great festival of the Church is much more than that.
Once again, Scripture tells us that they were gathered. Although the Scripture is not clear, tradition holds that they gathered again in the Upper Room. The Risen Lord had left them again, and they were once again alone. The reading from Acts says that “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”
There is a connection here between what has just happened and the moment of creation. If you recall the story of creation, God spoke all things into being except for humanity. When God created humanity, it was with God’s own hands. God formed humanity from the dust of the earth. But then, a most extraordinary thing happened. God breathed life into the nostrils of humanity and gave them life. The breath of God gave life to God’s creation.
One of my favorite readings from the Great Vigil of Easter is the reading from Ezekiel, the Dry Bones passage. It is a strange passage of a man in a valley that is filled with dry bones. There is this exchange back and forth about animating the dry bones in that valley. “Can these bones live?” This question is put to the man in the valley, and he is told to preach to them. Further, he is told that these bones are the people of Israel and that the man is to preach the coming of the Kingdom of God.
On its own, this passage might seem a bit strange but placed into the feast of Pentecost, it starts to become more apparent. The Ezekiel passage is one of the options for Pentecost along with Acts. This passage is often not read, giving way to the Acts passage, but I hold that these two passages taken together is what this feast is all about.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t like to think of this feast as the “birthday of the Church.” I prefer to think of this day as the reanimation of the Church. The Church existed since the beginning of the creation. That moment God breathed his breath into the nostrils of humanity, the Church was born. But the Church had become dry, like those bones in the valley. Just as God repaired the relationship between God and humanity with the birth of Jesus Christ, God was reanimating the Church by, once again, animating creation with God’s breath.
The passage from Acts says that there were a great many staying in Jerusalem, and when they heard the noise, the noise of the great rushing wind, they call came. The Church was making noise, and the people came. They came and heard the message of God’s love in their language. They were diverse in their number, and yet they came together. Those who came joked and poked fun and said the Apostles were drunk, and perhaps they were intoxicated with the Spirit of God.
Then Peter arose and spoke. Peter recounted all that had happened and why it happened. This simple fisherman was filled with confidence in his words that all were astonished as I am sure Peter was. If we continue to read this chapter, the outcome of what was spoken becomes evident. Scripture tells us that some three thousand were baptized and added to their number.
The Great Feast of Pentecost does not celebrate the birthday of the Church; the Great Feast of Pentecost commemorates the reanimation of the dry bones of the Church. The Holy Spirit came upon the Church and reanimated the bones, put flesh back on those dry bones, and blew the breath of God, once again into the nostrils of the Church.
For over a year, we have been hold up in the Upper Room. The pandemic has kept us from those we love and from the things we like to do. Sure, we have worshipped together through the miracle of modern technology, but it has not been the same. Many of us are coming out of lockdown, albeit slowly, and our lives are starting to change, and some semblances of our former activities are returning.
Although the Church was never closed, she is also starting to emerge from lockdown in a vastly different place. I think the Church’s place today is a much better place than before the lockdown. I said it early on, the Holy Spirit is calling us to something new. God is breathing a fresh breath on the Church to reanimate its dry bones, and the Church is being called back into a world of relevance and service.
It is time for the Church to make a noise as it did on that first Pentecost. It is time for the Church to speak in the language that all will understand. It’s time that the Church reclaims its boldness of preaching that God loves all without exception and without condition.
Peter rose and spoke the truth of what God has done and continues to do for us. God loves us to such an extent that he sent Jesus to show us the way, and he sent the Spirit to continue to guide us. On this day of Pentecost, let us recommit ourselves to that boldness. Let us recommit ourselves to being bold advocates for the poor and those of the margins of life. And let us recommit ourselves to showing that unconditional love of God for all of creation.