Pentecost B

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for May 19, 2021 (Pentecost B)


Pentecôte (1732), oil painting on canvas by Jean Restout II (1692-1768), Musée du Louvre, Paris. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (or alternate Second Reading): Acts 2:1-21

Come, Holy Spirit! It is Pentecost, the festival day when we recognize that the Body of Christ is drawn together, given life, and sent out into the world by the Holy Spirit. In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the Holy Spirit come as wind and tongues of fire in the room where the apostles are gathered. A crowd of spectators hears the apostles speaking in their own native tongue, signaling that Christ has come for all nations and that the word of God is heard in every language. Peter then preaches to the crowd in the apocalyptic words of the Prophet Joel, foretelling that God would pour out the Spirit on all God’s people in the last days.

First Reading (alternate): Ezekiel 37:1-14

In this familiar passage from Ezekiel, the prophet imagines an eerie valley of death filled with dry bones. In these poetic verses, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy. As Ezekiel does so, the dry bones become connected, covered with skin, and then breathed into life as a vast multitude. Ezekiel’s prophetic vision reveals God’s promise to restore Israel from exile. In the context of the readings for Pentecost, we may hear it as the work of the Spirit bringing forth life and a multitude of witnesses from the dust and dry bones of death.

Psalm: Psalm 104:25-35,37

This Psalm of joy and thanksgiving celebrates the diversity of all God’s creation: God has filled the earth and sea with too many amazing creatures to count. Recalling the first story of creation in Genesis, the Psalmist reminds us that God’s spirit was at work in creating the Earth, and that God’s spirit remains active in making creation new again. The loss of breath ends life; new breath restores it.

Second Reading: Romans 8:22-27

Paul’s striking words describe all creation groaning in labor pains like a mother giving birth, while the Holy Spirit joins in “with sighs too deep for words” to help us pray. Like many unusual metaphors, these verses prompt us to reflection that leads to insight. Like a mother eager to hold her new infant, we are eager for the new life that God has in store for us, yet we wait patiently for something that we desire but cannot yet see.

Gospel: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

We turn one last time to John’s account of Jesus’s Final Discourse, his last talk with his disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus tells them that he will soon go back to God – the one who sent him – but reassures them that God will send an Advocate who will testify on God’s behalf. Even though the apostles have been with Jesus since his public ministry began, he tells them, there is still much that they don’t understand; much that Jesus has not explained. When the Advocate comes bearing Jesus’s words, much more will be revealed, and then they will understand.

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