Day of Pentecost B
May 27, 2012
John 15:26-27; 16:4-15
The 1980s were a low point for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered rights movement in the United States. Beginning in the early 1980s, Gay activists began to see signs of a mysterious disease that was gradually sickening, then killing alarming numbers of Gay men. By the time of the annual 1985 candlelight march in honor of slain Gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk (see “The Ascent and the Promise: ‘You Gotta Give ’em Hope“), one of the organizers – Cleve Jones – learned that over 1,000 San Franciscans had been lost to this new disease: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). These losses were being felt across the country, as a number of the LGBT movement’s long-time leaders died one by one.
In the Hebrew Bible reading this week, the prophet Ezekiel is given a vision for the people of Israel who were also at a low point in their history, having been defeated, then taken captive by the pagan nation of Babylon. Their homeland had been laid waste, their people had been killed, and their leadership were imprisoned in a foreign land. In the Prophecy of the Dry Bones, the prophet is brought by the Spirit to a valley filled with dry bones. The image of these dry bones captured the feeling of the captives of Babylon – dead, abandoned and hopeless.
But the spirit of the Lord was not about to leave the Israelites dead and
abandoned. In his vision, Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the bones, whereupon he says, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord” (vv.4-6). And, surely enough, the narrator describes a (literally) breath-taking sight: “as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them … and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude” (vv.7-8, 10).
When Cleve Jones and his grieving companions were planning the 1985 candlelight march in San Francisco, they were inspired to write on placards the names of all the people they knew who had died of AIDS and post them on the side of the San Francisco Federal Building. To Cleve, “the wall of names looked like a patchwork quilt” (The AIDS Memorial Quilt) – and thus the inspiration to create the first AIDS Memorial Quilt was born. As other cities found out about the quilt, memorial panels came pouring in from other cities devastated by AIDS. On October 11, 1987, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, DC, featuring 1,920 panels memorializing those who had died of AIDS. According to the AIDS Memorial Quilt website “over half a million people visited the Quilt that weekend”. For the first time, the narratives of the quilt panels had breathed life back into the memories of all those lost to AIDS, and the movement for LGBT rights was brought out of the Valley of Bones.
This week is the celebration of Pentecost, when the members of the
early church – still grieving over the death of Jesus Christ – were said to have been first visited by the Holy Spirit. The book of the Acts of the Apostles narrates the Pentecost event: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4). The Holy Spirit – also known in the Gospel of John as “the Comforter” – not only provides hope, in-spiration and healing, but the Spirit also provides the ability to speak across languages, unifying people who may have been previously divided.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt is surely a gift of the Spirit. Today, the AIDS Memorial Quilt has grown to over 47,000 3′ x 6′ panels, memorializing over 91,000 loved ones lost to AIDS. Its total completed size is over 1.2 million square feet. It has been viewed by more that 18 million visitors from countless counries in displays across the US, raising awareness and over $4 million in funds for AIDS research. From June 27-July 1 and from July 4-8, the AIDS Memorial Quilt will once again be on display in Washington DC on the National Mall through the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Then, from July 21-24, the Quilt will literally “blanket” Washington, DC during the XIX International AIDS Conference, filling the National Mall and 40 other locations across the city. Having been to visit the Quilt personally, I can say that it is the experience of a lifetime (but remember to bring lots of Kleenex if you come …). People from countless areas across the globe are united in their grief and their determination to change the world for the better. Come and see this gift of the Spirit and see the countless people given new life by the Spirit of art, creativity and generosity!