In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

In the Orthodox Christian Church we’re in a period now between the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of Holy Pentecost. So many of our hymns and readings in this period are looking back on the life and the work of Christ (crowned with His Ascension) and looking forward to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This evening I’d like to read a short passage from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel the Prophet; this reading will be heard at Saturday night’s service, in preparation for the Feast of Pentecost on Sunday.

The Prophet Ezekiel writes (36: 24-28): 24For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them. 28And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be My people, and I will be your God.

These verses are an excerpt from a longer passage of prophecy given by God to His Prophet Ezekiel to be delivered “to the house of Israel.” Tonight, I’m much less interested in exploring what it meant to the people at that time (which is important), but rather what does this prophecy hold for us today in the Christian Church? The Orthodox Church teaches and believes that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant—so in the Church we read the Old Testament in the light of the revelation of Christ. As the new Israel, the Holy Church and Body of Jesus Christ, we read this prophecy on the eve of Pentecost. And in the context of the Christian Church, this prophecy is understood to foretell Pentecost—and not only about the actual gift of the Holy Spirit to man, but we have here an explanation of what this gift will mean for the salvation of the human race. We have a prophecy of the Christian Church.

The reading begins (36:24) with God saying that His Church will be brought together from all the lands of the earth and placed in a land that is Her own. If we understand this verse through Christ, then it refers to the gathering of all who believe into the Church, the Bride of Christ, whose home is not is this world but in the New Jerusalem (in the recreated earth after the last days). The movement of the Church is toward the Kingdom of God.

Ezekiel goes on to say (36:25) that the people of God will be sprinkled with water and cleansed from all uncleanness and all idols. When we’re baptized into Christ our sins are washed away and our passions (the idols we worship) are cleansed. We’re purified for God in the waters of baptism.

God then promises (36:26) to give us a new heart, to replace our stony hearts with hearts of flesh. This is a wonderful visual image, very reminiscent of King David’s line in the Psalms: ”A clean heart create in me, O God, and a right spirit renew in my inmost parts” (Psalm 50[1]: 10). Our hearts of stone, our unfeeling and unloving and self-absorbed hearts, will be replaced by God with hearts of flesh. With human hearts, hearts like we’re supposed to have, hearts that are attentive to God and to the needs of our fellow man. As Christ says in the Gospel of St. John, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).

Then we have the promise of Pentecost: “And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36: 27). God promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to this people He has gathered and cleansed. The Spirit will lead us in God’s commandments from within. We will walk in God’s law because His Spirit is guiding us from within. We’re being promised help in the Christian Church to do the things that no ones been able to do since the founding of the earth—to keep the way of God as our way. And this promise is worked out in the Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. God can be joined to us in this new way, as one of us, dwelling in us, because of Christ.

This reading then ends (36:28) with the wording of the Old Covenant, of God’s first covenant with the Patriarch Abraham—“ye shall be My people, and I will be your God.” He first loved us, He sought us out, and made us His own. As St. Paul writes to the Romans, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). He reached out to us, He gathered us, and He offers us salvation by living within us and leading us to Himself. The days we live in have been promised from the beginning. A time when God would indwell His followers, fill us with His very life and presence, with His Spirit, and direct our steps as one of us, not just from books and laws. It’s a great grace to live in the era of the Body of Christ, His Church, on the earth.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!