Biblical Words 
The Spirit of God, that gives life, empowers communities with many voices to witness to God’s work.
These readings return to the usual pattern of a Hebrew-scriptures text with a psalm, followed by an Epistle and a Gospel. The main text, this time, is not the Gospel but the reading in Acts about Pentecost.
. Ezekiel 37:1-14
When the day celebrates the work of the Spirit of God, this Prophetic reading may not be the first to come to mind from the Hebrew scriptures, but its power commands for it a mighty place among all the prophetic writings.
In current American culture far more people are likely to know the spiritual that sings “the knee-bone connected to the thigh-bone…” than will know the Biblical passage from which it comes. The scriptures that have found a living place in the culture bear a powerful witness.
As is often the case with Ezekiel, God uses
something that has gotten the prophet’s attention – especially something that annoys
or angers him – to fashion a word of prophecy. In this case, Ezekiel overhears the grumbling
and cynical comments of his fellow exiles in
Ezekiel had a dual mission: to condemn the over-confident sinners still in
Few visible objects evoke dead-and-gone as forcefully as dried bones lying in a dry valley. The word of God to Ezekiel emphasizes the bleakness of these bones, in order then to visualize the astonishing restoration to life.
Bone by bone they reconnect, sinew
materializes to string them together, flesh appears to empower them, and skin
comes to protect the new body. But
bones, flesh, and skin are not yet a living being. The essential requirement is spirit
(translated “breath” by the
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b.
The Psalm selection reiterates this vital power that the spirit bestows on living creatures.
The psalm as a whole is one of the more impressive hymns to God’s wisdom and blessing as shown in the created world. Following a section praising the harmony of the vegetative and animal world (verses 14-23), this concluding section praises the wonder of things in the sea, and then generalizes about the dependency of all creatures on God’s support.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath [ruach, wind/spirit], they die and return to their
dust. When you send forth your spirit [ruach], they are created [the verb of
The Spirit of God creates the spirit of living creatures – and, notably, also renews the face of the ground. The whole environment is refreshed by the Spirit of God.
. Acts 2:1-21
The reading from Acts is the primary text for the Day of Pentecost. What was prepared for in the Lectionary texts about the risen Jesus over the last few weeks finally takes place here, and the spirit-empowered community of witnesses is launched on its mission.
The setting of the Pentecost event
emphasizes two things: that all the
disciples and believers were together in one place, and that in
The witness to the resurrection and saving
power of Jesus starts from a single unified group. This is an essential point for the
presentation in Acts, even though it is not historically likely. It was important to the second generation of
Christians to identify a single form of the gospel message that would not
differ significantly as it spread to the communities of
The unity of the gospel message is balanced
by the diversity of the people
hearing it on Pentecost. The list of
regions from which the hearers at Pentecost came (verses 8-11) represents the
extremes of the familiar world from
“Pentecost,” Titian, 16th century.
Courtesy of Divinity Library,
The striking aspect of Pentecost, as
presented here, is the language miracle. The disciples are empowered by the Holy
Spirit with “tongues as of fire,” symbolizing the capacity to speak different
languages. All the diverse Judean
peoples can hear the gospel spoken in their own local languages. The actual phenomenon of “speaking in
tongues,” which does not involve foreign languages, is less important here than
that this gift of the Spirit is the reversal of the
The story of the
The disciples at Pentecost do not eliminate the diversity of human languages, but through the Spirit they overcome it by speaking the same truth in all languages. When the days of prophecy come and the Holy Spirit is poured out, the blessing of human harmony and cooperation can be restored.
When Peter stands up to interpret for the people what has happened, he quotes the prophecy from Joel about the prophesying in the last days. It is a powerful passage, with awe-inspiring hope for a new age. It expresses marvelously the zeal that must have fired this movement, which was so truly charismatic – from the Spirit – in its early years.
John 15:26-27; 16:4
The Gospel reading does not have the drama
of the Pentecost narrative in Acts, but it is the Johannine anticipation of the
outpouring of the Spirit. The
terminology is different. In John we
hear Jesus say to the disciples, “When the
Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of
“Advocate” translates the Greek term “Paraclete” (parάklētos, literally meaning “one summoned,” “called to one’s side”). Other translations of this loaded term are “Comforter” (King James), “Counselor” (New International Version), “Paraclete,” simply keeping the Greek term (New Jerusalem Bible), and, an increasing favorite among scholars, “Helper” (New American Standard Bible. The Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon, 2nd ed., says, “In our literature the active sense helper, intercessor is suitable in all occurrences of the word,” p. 618.)
The first “truth” the Spirit will guide the disciples into is their witness to Jesus. “You too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (, New Jerusalem Bible). This divine power will replace the presence of Jesus for the disciples and become the source of their witnessing to knowledge of God brought through Jesus.
There is yet more for the disciples to grasp
of the meaning of Jesus’ coming. The
role of the Spirit is to guide them to it, or to infuse them with it. “I did not tell you this from the beginning,
because I was with you; but now I am going to the one who sent me” (16:4,
The emphasis here is on continued teaching that the disciples will need. Still speaking between the Last Supper and his arrest, Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (-13). They could not absorb during Jesus’ time all that they will need to carry on their mission in the world.
While John’s Gospel does not speak about the “church,” the common life of the believers (koinonia), guided by the Advocate, bears witness to Jesus’ name and power to the unbelieving world around it.