Today is Pentecost. If you’re a student of Greek you can hear the “penta” which sounds like 5 and means the 50th day [after Easter]. It’s a church holiday – the birth day of the Church – which we hear about in Acts 2. Previously it was a feast day in the Jewish Calendar: the Feast of Weeks, marking a celebration of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt Sinai– the word of God among the people of Israel to guide, heal and liberate them. The Spirit of God – or Holy Spirit – is something that is often vague for us. I used to imagine Casper the friendly ghost, as I more often heard “Holy Ghost” as a child when the Spirit was discussed. Later in my adolescence and young adulthood I was introduced to charismatics ad Pentecostals who claimed to be inspired and gifted by the Spirit with prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues and other mysterious gifts. Reflecting upon this third person of the Trinity, (who was most often explained to me like mist or vapor as water is like a Trinity – the same thing in three forms: ice, water and vapor) I assumed that the Spirit was like some sort of benevolent poltergeist who would sneak up on people and make them do crazy things for God. Far from inspiring trust in me, it engendered fear and anxiety.
I’m far from the only one to experience this notion and person of God as Spirit to be vaguely foreign and mysterious. A curious aspect of the Spirit comes from the languages used in the Bible: Hebrew and Greek. In both of them the word for spirit can also be translated as breath. Entomologically there is a deep and direct connection between breathing – as in living, or as in giving life (see Genesis 1 & 2) and the Spirit – whether that be God’s Spirit moving in the world, or our spirit moving us. I find that to be much more intimate, encouraging and affirming than a benevolent hyper-active poltergeist.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 :: the valley of bones
The prophet Ezekiel is moved – physically; to a new place; and spiritually; to a space – by the hand of the LORD. It’s there that he experiences a vision of reanimation, restoration and what we’d called resurrection. The hordes of dead bones are transformed into a living multitude of the people of God. They are physically resurrected (the language is quite precise and visual). They are also spiritually resurrected – they now know God, the purpose and gift of life; and that God speaks and acts, keeping his word.
Acts 2:1-21 :: the coming of the Spirit
Luke, the writer of Luke-Acts, tells of this miraculous day that is not the climax in the life of the Church, but rather the birth day from which the kingdom of God – as the Church – extends throughout the world. The text insists on the unity of the disciples in one place and one space, which happens to also the city in which the devout Jews of every nation on Earth are gathered for the Festival of Weeks. The text curiously closes with the phrasing that all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. In between these three principal statements of unity and togetherness are periods, actions and lists that insist upon particularities and uniqueness: the gift of speaking in tongues is given differently according to ability; while all those present are amazed, some become mockers; the long list in 8-11 that insists upon the diversity of culture of all those present. The Spirit brings a new speaking of different languages and a diverse hearing of a common word, to a people who are described as simultaneously different and particular as well as together and unified.
Questions for going deeper:
1. What word or phrase grabs your attention in today’s selection?
2. How does that word or phrase touch your life today?
3. How is the Spirit of God inviting you to act, to be, to do or to speak through these texts?