Welcome, back. Between vacation and convention, the blog has been on a bit of holiday, but with the Day of Pentecost, we get back into the weekly offerings...
Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14
For the record, I never really got into the Dry Bones song. I did not care that the hip bone was connected to the thigh bone (although it really is, under the alias of Mr. Femur) But, what I do like about this text is the overpowering faith of the writer – that there is no death, no darkness, no hopelessness, that cannot be overcome by light and by life. Not even a valley of dry bones that have been picked clean by their own culture of death. (Culture of death… sounds a little too familiar).
As John Holbert describes it, this text is allegorical and historical all at the same time. Ezekiel, it is assumed, went into a Babylonian exile with the first wave of deportees in 597 B.C.E., a group that was added to when Nebuchadnezzar ten years later destroyed what remained of Jerusalem in a furious rage, capturing and blinding the king, Zedekiah, and herding the last leaders of a shattered Judah eastward to the huge Babylonian capital. (http://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/2015/05/we-rattling-bones-john-c-holbert-05-15-2015)
Little wonder, then, that when Ezekiel speaks of dry bones in the valley, he means that two ways – the bleached remains of dead soldiers after the Babylonian onslaught and the empty future of Judah after this crushing defeat. So, in his dream or vision, when God drops him into this God-awful place – quite the experience I would imagine – and asks him, “Hey, pal, can these bones live?” how is a prophet to respond? (In Ezekiel’s case, it is with the patented side-step… “Oh, you would know better than I.”)
And, I love the imagery of what happens next in the story. Ezekiel is told to speak to the bones, that God will bring the bones to life again. He does, and they dramatically do. The dry bones of defeat and humiliation become the healthy host of Israel once again – there will be a future and there will be hope for a broken and scattered people. Life will triumph.
Acts 2: 1 - 21
A lot going on here. (And, not just the notion that the disciples were imbibing before lunchtime, though I cannot speak for some of them). So much of the content of the New Testament derives from the Old (duh) in that stories are often retold (Matthew’s Gospel is in many ways a reboot of the story of Israel, beginning with the exodus from Egypt….) and re-imagined. The writer of Luke looks back to all of the foundational stories from Genesis, but in this particular instance imagines the ending of the story of the Tower of Babel.
Where in that story we see the ripping apart of human community and get a foretaste of the misery that is in store for us as our dreams of an easy ascent into the realm of the gods is taken from us – humans have never tolerated frustration very well – the story in Acts – where suddenly everyone is able to hear good news in their own language – dangles the hope of a healing of that division, and the re-socialization that is possible through the power of love.
The day of Pentecost is the undoing of Babel. And, given the theme of the Ezekiel text, we see that one more dry valley – in this instance, the sum total of the human condition – is not beyond hope of repair either. The dry bones born of our malicious intent toward each other will not be our final judgement.
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
The ‘Advocate’, or the Spirit of Truth is the main focus of this text, and from an historical perspective, John’s gospel ties these sayings closely to the persecution of Jesus’ followers. Mark Heim (Saved from Sacrifice) delivers a fine explanation:
“Paraclete is a Greek word that is variously translated advocate, or helper, or intercessor. These words give a rather vague impression, while the original has a more specific flavor: one who appears on behalf of another, an advocate in the sense of representative for the accused, a defense attorney.
In the context of Jesus’ speech, which is focused on persecution past and future, the meaning is clear. The work of the paraclete is to testify by the side of victims, to be their advocate and to prove the world wrong. In the sacrificial ganging of all against a few, the few will not be left alone. There will always be at least one divine voice to speak for them. The world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment is summed up in the sacrificial dynamic. Sin becomes an excuse for persecution, righteousness becomes defined as submission to scapegoating, and judgment uses violence against violence.
The historical task of the Holy Spirit, which is another name for the paraclete, is to prove this wrong, by testimony to Christ. Christ is the counterexample. The world that crucified Jesus is wrong about sin and righteousness because it wrongly accused him of sin and refused to see the righteousness confirmed by God’s raising of Jesus, and wrong about judgment because the verdict against Jesus has been reversed. (p. 154)”