The Solemnity of Pentecost, May 23
The solemnity of Pentecost that we celebrate today marks the end and the goal of the Easter season. For us Christians, it is a memorial of the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Virgin Mary in the form of fiery tongues, an event that took place fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus. The Paschal Mystery — the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Jesus — culminates in the sending of the Holy Spirit by the Father at the request of His Son, on Jesus’ disciples.
The feast also commemorates the official inauguration of the Christian Church by the apostolic preaching of St. Peter, which resulted in the conversion of 3000 Jews to the Christian Faith. Pentecost is, thus, the official birthday of the Church. But years ago, This Rock Magazine reported that there were 34,000 Protestant denominations which means that, on the average, more than sixty-nine new denominations had sprung up every year since the Reformation began in 1517. So whose birthday is it anyway? You could say, Pentecost is the birthday of the Church Jesus established nearly 2,000 years ago. — Today’s Scripture readings remind us that Pentecost is an event of both the past and the present.
As you probably know, analogies can be useful – especially when it comes to spiritual things, things of faith, things that are often cloaked in mystery – in other words, things that are often difficult to wrap our minds around. Sometimes when we people of faith try to talk about God, or try our best to describe some aspect or quality of God, or try to understand a story or action of God or a text we find in Scripture, or try to see more clearly some article of faith – we can sometimes find ourselves scratching our heads. Some of this stuff is more than a little challenging to understand.
But analogies can really bring about some clarity, can help us more fully understand or come to a clearer picture of something that is kind of difficult to grasp. Analogies – what I would call descriptions and examples that show the similarities between two things or two ideas – can quite often help lead us to a deeper understanding, to an, “Ok, now I understand,” moment. And that can be helpful.
If you are familiar at all with how airplanes “work” you know that lift is primarily created by the air flowing over the wings – creating a difference in air pressure that causes the wings of the plane to be “sucked” upward. The greater the speed of the air over the wings – the greater the lift. And so, airplanes always take off into the wind, making sure they have plenty of lift during a risky part of the flight. It is that headwind that helps the plane to get the airspeed it needs before it runs out of the runway. It always takes off against the wind . . .
New scenario: You’re making a fire in your fire-pit for a party, or at a campsite – and there are young kids around. What’s the first thing you tell them? Stay away from the fire. Don’t get too close or you’re going to get hurt, going to get burned.
If you want to be safe, keep your distance from the fire . . .
New scenario: This one doesn’t need much explanation (given what the world has been through). Where’s the safest place to be when an illness is spreading? Far away from others, far away from any sort of contact – especially, away from the breath of another. When something bad is spreading through a population (as we know all too well) the last place you want to be is within distance of someone’s cough or sneeze or throat clearing or even breath. Those situations almost always have a bad outcome.
Protect yourself. Don’t let anyone breathe on you . . . .
With the wind, Unsafe. Fire, Unsafe. Breath, Unsafe.
But then we have today’s celebration, one of the most important and meaningful on the Church calendar as you can tell from the red you see me wearing. Pentecost, a day on which we gather to remember something that happened two thousand years ago – but more importantly, one on which we gather to give thanks for the incredible gift of God’s Spirit to us – in this time and place.
We hear about it so often that we’ve probably come to see the gift of the Spirit almost as something kind of “ordinary: Yet it is the opposite of that – an incredible belief and acknowledgment that our God is not distant – but rather dwells within every human heart open to him. Think about that for a second. Let it sink in. It’s a profound idea. A profound reality. A profound truth of our faith.
You, of course, can see where this is going. My friends, like many actions of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit – God himself -will impact our lives only to the degree that we let him, only to the degree that we invite God’s Spirit to come alive within us and guide us on our journey. God always respects our freedom, and therefore doesn’t force himself on us. Rather, he provides us every opportunity, indeed every avenue for us to experience him to the fullest – in all that we say and do. But like Mary and countless people of faith since her, we need to say “yes” – we need to be willing to let him be everything we need him to be and be willing to let ourselves be everything he wants us to be.
He can be the wind in our lives – not holding us back, but gently nudging us forward down the path God has chosen for us. To truly “take off” in life we need to not be pushing against the Spirit, but rather be pointing ourselves in the direction the Spirit is pointing.
He can be a fire within – keeping us motivated and excited and committed to doing the right thing, the holy thing, the God-like thing every moment of every day. The fire of the Spirit doesn’t burn. It warms and inspires and guides.
And he can be the breath that sustains us, be the very stuff that keeps us going – even when things get tough. The breath of the Spirit is not something to protect ourselves from or avoid. Rather, the Spirit is to be breathed in, deeply, providing the spiritual “oxygen” that gives life – the new, transformed life won for us by the Lord Jesus.
Wind, Fire Breath.
All good things when it comes to the Spirit.
So let’s allow God’s Spirit to do what he wants do – make us the beautiful, loving, compassionate people God created us to be.
Come Holy Spirit! Come!