Pentecost Sunday is a day on which we are reminded that the Holy Spirit was promised and has been given. We celebrate the fulfillment of a promise by Jesus that the Advocate, the Paraclete, the one sent by Jesus would come to remind us of all that Jesus taught, to be with us, and to bring to us the power of God. We celebrate this day with three readings – each one of which is filled with mention of the Spirit. The first reading is the account from Acts 2 so familiar to every Christian, 50 days after the Resurrection. We imagine it as a very public event in which the power of the Spirit came with the roar of a great wind, as though tongues of fire, and suddenly the disciples can speak in a way that people from everywhere can understand them. It is as though what happened at the Tower of Babel is undone and finally the world can be united. The Spirit-filled disciples are to be the agents that restore unity to the world.
The account from the Gospel of John seems as though a very private account. The disciples are cowered together in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday when Jesus appears among them with words of peace, letting them know it would all be OK. Jesus commissions them to continue his work: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Just as God breathed the Holy Spirit upon the waters of a formless void to create and give life to the world, so too, Jesus then breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples to empower them to continue that saving work – reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit-filled disciples are to be the agents that reconcile to God and give new life to the world.
The wonderful reading from St Paul, our second reading, says so clearly that there is but one Spirit given, and that one Spirit gives many gifts, “distributing them individually to each person as he wishes” – not for the benefit of that one person, but to build up the church for mission, to become church.
The Acts of the Apostles describes a general coming of the Spirit. The reading from 1st Corinthians describes the variety of gifts given – personal, communal, missionary, and more. The Gospel describes the gifts given for the very specific ministry of reconciliation given to very specific ministers to celebrate in the name of the community, i.e., the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We, the Body of Christ are truly gifted!
Truly – in depth and breadth, the church is ready for mission! And you’d love to think that now filled with the Spirit, the disciples rushed right out and got about the mission of building up the Kingdom of God here on earth. Not so much. If you read the Acts of the Apostles, you’ll see the Spirit must keep giving them a nudge. A nudge to get out of the Upper Room, a nudge to go into the streets and markets, to go to the Temple square, to go throughout Jerusalem, to go outside Jerusalem, to go to the Samaritans, and “gasp” even to the Gentiles!! …and even to Rome.
If we look to the lives of the apostles, disciples, and saints it is pretty clear that the arrival of the Holy Spirit didn’t shield them from the dangers of the world, did not eliminate challenges and hardships, but rather equipped them to persevere, even flourish, in the midst of them. And this seems to be the unified witness across the New Testament about the Spirit’s work.
I suppose that makes sense. In John’s Gospel, after all, the Spirit is described as parakletos, the one who “comes along side” of us, the one who advocates for us, remains with us, strengthens and helps us. And while we might hope the Spirit will just plain save us, or at least to take us away from whatever challenges seems to threaten to overwhelm us in the moment, the Spirit is here to be with us during challenges rather than taking those challenges away from us.
The Spirit has come to the Church, and with stops and starts, we have been in mission for 2000 years – overwhelmed at times, overwhelming at other times. Two millennia sharing the words of reconciliation: “you are forgiven.” All the while, the incredible promise of the Spirit empowering women and men, old and young, to share the gifts given. We celebrate the coming of the Spirit, we celebrate those who have gone before us. We celebrate that sitting right next to you in someone gifted by the same Spirit.
Maybe today will be their Pentecost; maybe yours, maybe mine. Today may be the day when we get our spiritual nudge and we listen to the Spirit who calls us to move beyond individual concerns to see ourselves as part of larger community. To move beyond the walls of our homes and sanctuaries. To build up this local community of Sacred Heart and Diocese of St. Petersburg so that we are known as holy, healing, hospitable, and helping. To model for each other and the community that kind of commitment and life in this Church. For we are, after all, the Body of Christ, those authorized and equipped to care for this world God loves so much. And it is the Spirit who reminds us of this role and enables us to fulfill it. This may not always be all that we want, but perhaps it is just what those around us need.
So on this Pentecost Sunday, let us pray:
Come Holy Spirit. Remind us, equip us, encourage us, and stay with us that we might perceive the needs of our neighbors and community and then rise to the occasion to meet those needs with equal measures of tenacity, competence, courage, and grace. Come Holy Spirit.