Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17 (25-27)
There have been points in the Biblical tradition where the people seemed in danger of losing God entirely – God had had enough – or the people had had enough. There is the powerful image in Ezekiel of God leaving the Temple – as the people go into exile. And then there is the nearly mythical story of Babel. The people long to be as God, to attain to the heights and powers of God, and so begin to build a tower to the heavens. But God confounds them and gives them all different tongues to speak different languages and they give up the enterprise and scatter – away from God and away from one another.
Pentecost is the story through which God keeps the promise that Jesus made to His disciples on the night before He died: through the power and coming of the Spirit God is eternally present to us and the finality of Christ’s victory at Calvary and through the Resurrection are realized.
But Pentecost does not merely mark the idea of some nebulous Spirit of fancy that is for our private use. The coming and continuing reality of the Holy Spirit, Christ with us, is realized on earth through the continuing connection of God’s church. The community, the Church, is God’s continual presence among us which is not so much about us as individuals but as the community Baptized in the Holy Spirit. The continuing call to be One with each other, even as God and Christ are One; because of Christ we have been adopted, made One with God because we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Sorry, Pentecost and other feasts can make it very easy to wax theological about it all and those things tend to mean very little to us. Jesus’ words in the Great Discourse (John, chapters 13-17) are very heightened, mysterious, and often confusing. But we should very clearly understand two things: first, Jesus knew that he was preparing to die sacrificially, redemptively; and two, after He was Resurrected, a new reality would dawn and it would be up to the disciples to continue His work, His ministry, in light of that new reality. The new reality is that we are restored to God, brought near, made One with the Father through the actions and sacrifice of the Son. We are made new by the power of Resurrection. The reality of Christ is news to everyone so, the disciples are to share that news, right? But how? They are broken, flawed, bewildered – even as they begin to accept what Christ’s death and resurrection really mean. How can they continue? Where can they find the strength?
The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to His disciples. The Holy Spirit answers the how we go out into the world and share the reality of God’s new commandment in Christ: to love one another. The world, Jesus said, will not know about this love and it is the disciples’ challenging task to share it. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, has come among us, so Pentecost tells us. The power of God’s continuing life is undiminished and has come among us. But the Holy Spirit came to the disciples in community, as they prayed together. The Holy Spirit is most fully present in God’s church, the symbol and reality of His continuing love among us. The Holy Spirit does have individual consequences and does strengthen us on a personal level. But, when we are baptized, and sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever, it is for life in community, a life that is intended to be shared within the Body of Christ, his Church.
On an individual level, the HS can be elusive. Remember when Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night? Jesus says to Nicodemus that we must be connected to God in water and Spirit? But he also says that the Spirit comes as it wills and we do not know where it comes from or where it goes. Our prayer for the HS to come to us and among us does not mean that it will happen the way and in the time we wish for it to. The Holy Spirit commissions us to go out into the world and share the good news of Christ’s saving love for all. The Holy Spirit is clearly present in worship, in the Church of God.
When I think of the Holy Spirit, on a personal level, I think of her as the Spirit of adoption that Paul speaks of. Even though we don’t feel worthy of being included in God’s kingdom, even if we feel unsure of God’s call to us or that God even hears us, the Spirit of God which calls us to cry out “Abba! Father!” or mother, as the case may be, is the Spirit of Baptism which continues to call us back to community, back into relationship with God through His community and His church. But the idea that we are all included, all part of Christ’s family, is an important elemental reality of our understanding the power of the Holy Spirit.