Today is Pentecost Sunday, the Fiftieth Day after Easter and the tenth day after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. All the traditional readings for today talk about the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26ff). We worship one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but today is most especially associated with the Holy Spirit, because of what happened on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension, which we read about in Acts 2.
In the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is associated with gathering, order, faith, and life.
In the beginning, when God created all things, the Father spoke His Word (the Son) to create all things and the Holy Spirit hovered over the creation to order all things. He gave life and order to the world.
Then, when God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, in order to make Adam a living being, God breathed His Holy Spirit into Adam. In the Bible, the words breath, wind, and Spirit are all the same word. When God breathes on something, He is bestowing the Holy Spirit. And so Adam became a living person because God breathed His Spirit into Him to make him living. Adam was no longer dead dust formed into a body, but became a living being due to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, Adam soon fell into sin, so God promised a Savior to redeem Adam and his descendants – us – from the death that sin brings. So, throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was working through the prophets to give them God’s Word. They proclaimed God’s promises of the coming Christ due to the working of the Holy Spirit in them. Their Word brought life as the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And we see this in the reading from Ezekiel today where the Lord brings the prophet Ezekiel “out in the Spirit of the Lord” and sets him down in the middle of a valley full of dry bones. All these bones belong to people who have long since been dead. Their bones are dried out from the sun and the heat, and they have no hope in themselves; they can not make themselves live again.
But, the Lord gives Ezekiel His Word to proclaim to these dry bones, and they rise up and reattach and are covered with sinews and muscle and skin. They’re people again, they’re no longer dry bones, but they’re still not yet living.
So, the Lord again gives Ezekiel His Word to proclaim to these bodies. Ezekiel calls upon the breath, the Spirit, to breathe on these bodies so that they may live. And the Spirit comes to make the bodies live again. They are no longer dead, but become living beings due to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So, similar to when God made Adam in the beginning, here in Ezekiel is a vision of God raising up the dead from their graves and breathing life into them through His Spirit in order to make them living beings. This is what the Lord promises the dead of Israel, that is the dead of the Church: “… you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.”
In this promise, the Lord uses the name that the Israelites called Him, Yahweh, which appears as LORD in all capital letters in our Bibles. If you remember, the Lord calls Himself “I am,” (cf. Exodus 3) and the Israelites responded to this name by calling Him “Yahweh,” which means “He who is” or “He who causes to be.” This double-meaning is appropriate, because only the Lord is eternal – He is – and only He causes things to come into being from nothing and who brings life from death.
So, we see God as “He who causes to be” in Genesis as He caused all things to be, and we see this in Ezekiel as He causes the dead to live again in a vision of the future resurrection of our bodies. And then He also promises the dead of His Church: “… I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” The Lord promises that He will raise the dead and breathe His Spirit into you to make you live again.
This is coming in full at the end of the age at the resurrection, but we have the first fruits of this promise now, in the New Testament Church. It came on Pentecost Sunday in the reading from Acts for today.
The apostles are gathered in one place in Jerusalem for the Pentecost feast. This is also called the Feast of Weeks, where the first fruits of the harvest are gathered in. Within their midst, “…there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind,” which filled the house. This wind is the Holy Spirit entering into their presence. Then divided tongues as of fire appeared and rested on each of the apostles. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, or languages.
For also in town for the feast were devout Jews from “every nation under heaven.” They came to where the apostles were and heard them speaking in their own languages. They were amazed at this, because the apostles were from Galilee, so the Jews from the other nations couldn’t understand how or why these simpleton Galileans were speaking in their own native languages. So, they wondered what this meant. Some mockingly said that the apostles were drunk with wine.
But, Peter stands up and declares to those assembled that they aren’t drunk – after all, it’s still morning. Rather, what is happening is in fulfillment of the prophecy from Joel (Joel 2:28ff). What God had promised in pouring out His Holy Spirit on all flesh has now come to pass; what the people have witnessed is this fulfillment as the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples to enable them to proclaim the Word of the Lord and therefore be Christ’s witnesses. He’s making them alive in Christ by breathing His Spirit into them, and then they proclaim Christ to others so that they too may come to faith and receive the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit testifies to Christ; he brings us to faith in him for our salvation because he declares to us the truth. The Holy Spirit is not doing something at odds with what Christ is doing. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – our Triune God – work together with one will to bring us to salvation. The Father sent the Son to die and rise for the forgiveness of our sins, and the Holy Spirit brings us into this truth and into faith in the Son for our salvation.
So, on that first Pentecost Sunday of the New Testament Church, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, and then Peter, in the power of the Holy Spirit, proclaims that this is in fulfillment of God’s promises and then proclaims Christ to his hearers; he’s being a witness just as Jesus had said he would be. And the assembled devout Jews are converted through the power of the Holy Spirit in this proclamation. The Lord has begun to gather the first fruits of the nations into His Church on this feast of the first fruits, and it is a pledge of the future work of the Holy Spirit in this world. For the Lord sends His Church out into the world to continue this gathering through the working of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, the promise of God in pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh is significant, as Peter alludes to when he references the prophecy from the book of Joel. You see, in the Old Testament, those who proclaimed God’s Word were priests and prophets. But, these were only a very few people who had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, through the prophet Joel, the Lord promised to pour out His Holy Spirit upon all flesh so that all could prophesy, that is to say, “proclaim His Word” as this is what “prophesy” means in the fuller sense. And this promise has been fulfilled, first on the day of Pentecost and continuing now in the New Testament Church.
For God has made you all priests in Christ. St. Peter points this out in his first epistle as he says to you, “… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
You are the Lord’s nation, the Church, people called out of all nations and out of the darkness of sin and death and into the light of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament. You are priests because the Lord has poured out the Holy Spirit upon you to bring you to faith in the truth, in Christ for your salvation. You are no longer dead in your sins, but have become living beings due to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This happened in your Baptism, with the water and the Word and the Spirit, and happens constantly to you as you dwell in the Lord’s presence through the Church. The Holy Spirit witnesses to Jesus Christ through God’s Word and Sacraments as He creates faith in Christ in us, and then works in us so that we too may be Christ’s witnesses on earth. So, we enter into the Church through the font and are continually fed by the Lord at the altar and pulpit, and throughout our entire lives the Holy Spirit works to increasingly conform us to the image of Christ into which we were re-born at Baptism.
Thus, the Lord has breathed new life into you through His Spirit. You are no longer dead sinners with the fallen image of Adam, but rather living saints, redeemed by the righteousness of Christ. You have the first fruits of eternal life as you live new lives in Christ, as living beings re-birthed into Christ’s image by the power of the Spirit.
And what you saw in Ezekiel will happen to you as well. Ezekiel received a vision of the resurrection of the dead, and you are in this vision. You have been given new life here and now in the Church through Baptism. And God’s promise to you is that after you die and are buried, that that is not the end. God created you as people, both body and soul. Your soul will be at rest with God when you die, but that’s not the end. One day, your dead bodies will hear the Word of the Lord as He again raises you up and breathes the Spirit into you to make you living beings again, body and soul re-united.
And then He will bring you into your own land which He has promised you. We have the first-fruits of this land here and now in the Church. The Lord has promised to dwell with His Church, and He does so through His Word in all its forms – written, spoken, sacramental. Yet, the Church on earth is but a foretaste of what is to come later.
For when the Lord returns and He raises you up, you will dwell with the Lord directly, no longer veiled through His means of grace. Heaven and earth will be the same place on that day, because sin, death, and the devil will be cast out, the Lord will restore all things to the perfection in which He originally created the world, and you and He and the rest of the Church will dwell together forever.
You are part of the Church militant here in this life, battling sin, battling the devil, at odds with what passes for reason in this world, and facing mortal death. But, the Lord has given you His Spirit as the pledge of the promise He has made to you to raise you up. Because where the Spirit is, there is life.
So, when Christ returns you will be reunited in person with him and with all the faithful saints of all times and all places. He has already defeated sin, death, and the devil; so, you are already victors through him. So, when he returns, the struggle will be over and only the Lord and you His people will remain, living together eternally in the new, restored creation forever. The Lord, your God, has done all this for you, because He fulfills His promises. You have His Word on that, and you can be sure of it because He has made you living beings through His Spirit. Amen.
(Image: The Descent of the Holy Spirit, c. 1000 AD, By Unknown – lAF6-c4FM6o7CA at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29119717).